Lawsuit seeks drilling ban in remote Utah

Published February 1, 2002

Two environmental groups on December 6 filed a lawsuit against the federal government to prohibit oil recovery in remote areas of southern Utah.

The federal Bureau of Land Management has granted 12 leases to private companies for oil and gas exploration in one of the most desolate portions of the country. The remote area of Utah at issue is often featured in Western movies portraying the most hostile elements of the Old West. Nevertheless, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance argue the region is inappropriate for oil drilling.

“There are places where drilling is appropriate, and it’s already going on,” said NRDC attorney Johanna Wald. “But it is unnecessary and inappropriate to drill in these environmentally sensitive areas. We cannot drill our way to energy independence.”

According to the NRDC, the region is environmentally sensitive because it contains buried pottery shards and other remnants of ancient Indian tribes. The region is also home to the occasional antelope, sheep, falcon, and cactus.

“The administration has committed these sensitive parcels of land to oil and gas development without ever taking the time to examine what that leasing and development will mean to these extraordinary lands,” said Wald.

In addition to its federal lawsuit, the NRDC is pressing Congress to designate 9.1 million acres of the region as protected wilderness. An NRDC-supported bill to that effect is currently pending in both the House and the Senate.