Groups Fight Lease of Utah Federal Lands for Oil Use

Conservation groups argued on Monday against a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to lease public lands for oil and gas drilling and use. The land, located in southeastern Utah, is currently protected federally and known as the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, and was granted that distinction shortly after the lease was issued. 

The District of Columbia lawsuit was filed against David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, William Pendley, Acting Director of BLM, and Kent Hoffman, Utah State Director of BLM. The complaint claims that the parties violated the National Environmental Policy Act, by not analyzing and disclosing the effects of the lease, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 

Under the plan, BLM would lease the lands at issue to Twin Bridges Resources LLC. The company purchased the lease from a BLM online sale in December 2018, the lease was issued in March 2019, just days before the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed into law designating the lands as federally protected. 

The plaintiffs, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Living Rivers, alleged that BLM was “racing to authorize development of this lease” because time was “quickly running out on the Trump administration.” They purported that Bernhardt’s office was attempting to expedite the project and environmental assessment so that Twin Bridges’ project could begin before the end of the year. 

The parties described in their complaint that the area in question “is one of the most sublime and least traveled areas of federal public lands in the nation. A stunning and remote redrock landscape, it lacks any sign of human development. The overwhelming silence is broken only by the wind or the call of a circling raven.” 

Image taken from the complaint. The red box indicates the land at issue in the suit.

The project planned by Twin Bridges would include installing pipelines, drilling seven wells, and significant road construction.  The plaintiffs claimed that the damages from these activities would be permanent. The complaint purported that “BLM violated the law” when issuing the lease, and that it was in an effort to “facilitate the President’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda.” It asked the court to grant injunctive relief and vacate the lease. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Eubanks Legal and attorneys with the Natural Resources Defense Council.