July 15 marked the day that would have nullified another Bush-era act in regards to the environment. It would have been a day for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Wilderness Society to cheer. It would have been a day that released around 15,000 acres of sensitive land from the firing squad of oil and gas development. It would have been. But it wasn’t.
Despite appeals from SUWA and other groups, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a decision upholding a 2006 oil and gas lease sale. The groups challenging the original decision claim that the sale, which took place in November of 2006, compromised sensitive lands and that development of those lands would not meaningfully contribute to the nation’s or the state’s energy supplies. They also argued that BLM’s leasing decision violated important federal environmental and historic preservation laws.
Some of the 15,000 acres are located in an archaeologically-rich region in far southeastern Utah in an area known as Monument Canyon while other leases are near the iconic White River in northeastern Utah, above the Colorado River east of Moab, and along the western shore of the Great Salt Lake.
While the news that the lands have been allowed to be developed comes with a sting, there is a slight ray of hope. The decision made by the Board of Land Appeals did not approve any drilling. Owners of the lands will be required to seek and obtain approval by federal and state agencies before they can begin this next round of activities.
The conservation groups are reviewing the Board’s decision and will decide shortly on their next steps.
Photo Credit: Carolannie via flickr under Creative Commons License