Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 29, 2020


Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3981,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,
Carly Ferro, Utah Sierra Club, (908) 415-4587,

Feds Plan Drilling Project in Utah’s Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness

Lease Issued Just Weeks Before Congress Created Wilderness Area

MOAB, Utah— The Bureau of Land Management released a plan last week allowing helium exploration and development in the recently designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. The public has until Nov. 4 to comment on the impacts of this industrial development on lands set aside for permanent protection.

The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness includes one of the country’s most iconic and world-renowned stretches of river. It’s bounded on the east by the Green River and on the south by Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Labyrinth Canyon stretch of the Green River (from which the Wilderness takes its name) abuts the lease area and passes through Bowknot Bend on its way to the confluence with the Colorado River.

“This proposal is part of the administration’s ‘we’re going out of business’ assault on the nation’s public lands, plain and simple,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It’s no coincidence that the Bureau of Land Management is pushing this drilling project on an expedited timeline in late 2020; this project is highly controversial and would tarnish one of the bureau’s crown jewels: the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.”

The Bureau of Land Management formally issued the lease to Twin Bridges Resources, LLC in February 2019, only a few weeks before the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, which created the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness, became law. The Bureau rushed to issue the lease knowing that the area would soon be designated as wilderness, which prohibits new leasing and development.

The agency offered the lease without allowing the public to review or comment on that decision and did not prepare site-specific analysis prior to offering the lease for development, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Courts have found such restrictions on public participation and lack of analysis to be unlawful.

“As a third-generation small business owner of a whitewater rafting outfit based in Emery County, running the Green River is central to our ability to sustain our 55 years of operations,” said Lauren Wood, co-owner of Holiday River Expeditions. “The unfettered arid desert landscape, currently under attack, provides a critical wilderness buffer in sight, smell and sound for our river trips through the secluded refuge of Labyrinth Canyon. This place is special for any human to experience, but it is also part of the integral lifeblood that keeps outfitters like us afloat.”

“This proposal is wrong on so many levels. More destructive drilling is wrong for this awe-inspiring Wilderness; it's wrong for people's health; it's wrong for our climate. The Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness should be protected as intended and this proposal abandoned,” said Utah Sierra Club Chapter Director Carly Ferro.

The Bureau’s proposal will industrialize one of the most remote areas of eastern Utah’s red rock country. The agency proposes to authorize well-pad construction, drilling activities, road grading, pipeline installation, increased vehicle traffic and the construction of a 10-acre processing facility.

This industrialization will destroy wilderness values and harm a wide array of plants and animals, including native pollinators. The San Rafael Desert region is home to one of the most astonishing, diverse array of pollinators in North America. Researchers have found 49 different genera and 333 different species in this area. Forty-eight of these species were new to science and 68 occur only in the Canyonlands region of the Colorado Plateau.

“The push to drill in this spectacular wilderness area shows disdain for our protected public lands and wildlife,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We won’t rest until this plan meets its well-deserved demise.”

Comments must be submitted through the bureau’s ePlanning website. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has requested a two-week extension of the comment period.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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