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Oil & Gas Issues

By the Numbers

  • 1.4 Million: Acres of public lands protected from oil shale and tar sands development
  • 900,000: Acres of Wyoming sage-grouse habitat safeguarded in 2 years
  • 140,000: Acres of Utah's Uinta National Forest’s Diamond Fork and Strawberry Ridge forests closed to oil and gas leasing
  • 10,000+: Acres on Utah's Ashley Forest protected from oil and gas development

Protecting Special Places from Oil & Gas Leasing

Western Resource Advocates worked to pull 216,134 acres of federal lands inappropriate for oil and gas drilling from BLM oil and gas auctions. Over 5.25 million acres of federal lands have been leased for oil and gas drilling in Colorado (pdf) alone. Yet 70 percent of leased acreage remains unused. Parcels of federal land put up for lease auctions are not necessarily known to have any proven resources. These parcels are nominated for auctions by the companies wishing to bid on these lands.

Western Resource Advocates works to protect special places from lease auctions where drilling is incompatible with other resource values such as wildlife, critical watersheds, essential habitat for rare and endangered species, and to prevent fragmentation of critical migration corridors. Preserving these values is important to people too, and that preservation is important for economic, recreational, aesthetic and social reasons as well.

Ensuring Public Participation in the Face of Oil and Gas Development in Great Salt Lake

On behalf of Friends of Great Salt Lake and others, Western Resource Advocates brokered a settlement resolving a challenge to the leasing of 178,000 acres of the bed of Great Salt Lake for oil and gas development. Under the agreement, the vast majority of the parcels were withdrawn from leasing until the Division of State Lands revises its Great Salt Lake Mineral Leasing Plan. To decide whether to lease or not, State Lands will have to balance the protection of navigation, fish and wildlife habitat, aquatic beauty, public recreation, and water quality against the economic necessity or justification for the oil and gas development.

Western Resource Advocates is committed to protecting Great Salt Lake because it provides crucial habitat for 257 bird species. At least 33 species of shorebirds representing 2 to 5 million birds use Great Salt Lake annually. In addition, up to 5 million waterfowl migrate through the Lake each year, stopping along routes that take them as far away as Central and South America. Indeed, approximately 30 percent of the waterfowl migrating along the Pacific Flyway depend upon the Great Salt Lake wetlands. For these birds, the Lake provides a critical food supply, allowing them fuel up for the rest of their migrations, sometimes doubling their body weight before they leave.

Because the bed of Great Salt Lake is sovereign land, held in trust for the citizens of Utah, Western Resoruce Advocates argued that the State had failed to determine whether the leasing would jeopardize the public good. After long negotiations, the parties resolved the case in a settlement touted by both sides, in the editorial pages, and as a significant victory for anyone concerned about the Great Salt Lake and its complex and fragile ecosystem. The settlement suspends leases on more than 116,000 acres of Great Salt Lake and promises a complete analysis of the potential development impacts. Going forward, the public will be involved at every stage and will ultimately determine if any benefits from oil and gas development will outweigh costs to Great Salt Lake recreation and ecological values.

The conservation groups also reserved the right to challenge any development proposed for the remaining 55,000 acres of Great Salt Lake still subject to lease, and we will keep Western Resource Advocates members informed as this process evolves. For now, we are pleased that we have been able to suspend a large part of the proposed development and ensure public participation in protecting the Lake.