by Cole Mellino
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency that manages federal land and oversees thousands of oil and gas drilling operations, is considering whether or not to approve a proposed drilling operation of over 125 wells in Desolation Canyon – a remote canyon in northeastern Utah enjoyed by a variety of outdoor enthusiasts.
Proponents of drilling argue that it will create jobs. But at whose expense?
A recent study from the Center for American Progress outlines a compelling case for job creation by protecting public lands. The myriad employment opportunities from forest and water management, restoration and recreation are an important piece of sustainable economic development in the U.S.
Outdoor enthusiasts in Utah agree. There has been a major groundswell of concern in the state in response to the proposed drilling in Desolation Canyon.
“Utah’s outdoor recreation industry adds $4 billion to Utah’s economy, supports 65,000 jobs, and generates about $300 million in annual state sales tax revenue,” according to Peter Metcalf, founder and CEO of Black Diamond Equipment, an outdoor sporting company.
With the strong support of the Outdoor Industry Association, Metcalf and other representatives from 30 other outdoor brands wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in defense of a proposed wilderness area surrounding Desolation Canyon that would block the drilling project. The proposed wilderness area is part of the Red Rock Wilderness Act, which has been introduced in the House of Representatives every year since 1989 to protect key wilderness areas in Utah. But it has yet to pass in the House of Representatives.
The Environmental Protection Agency is on Metcalf’s side, though. The EPA deemed Gasco’s Environmental Impact Statement “inadequate” and received the lowest score possible because of major concerns about the impact to local air and water quality. Gasco has already been fined $350,000 for violations at its Riverbend Compressor Station on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah.
James Martin, director of the region’s EPA office, is particularly concerned about ozone levels in the area, which are already very high in the winter and would only become more elevated if Gasco began extracting natural gas. This increase in ground level ozone has very negative effects on human health. It could also negatively impact recreational activity around the area, thus decreasing the robust economic value that a protected wilderness offers.
The BLM has a responsibility to the American people to uphold its stated mission: to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. As we consider the impact of the boom in natural gas drilling, let’s not forget the incredible economic value these spaces offer to the country.
— Cole Mellino, Center for American Progress Intern, with Stephen Lacey