Don’t Drill the Wilderness

Image: Ray Wheeler

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Out of the goodness of his heart — or maybe just a sudden craving to win the environmental vote — President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah last September, protecting 1.7 million acres of red-rock canyons and desert wilderness, and in the process creating the largest contiguous area of protected lands in the lower 48.

But after just half a year, the buzzards are already circling: Conoco Inc. announced in early February that it intends to drill for oil in the heart of the wilderness.

When Clinton created the monument by proclamation last year, he outlawed any new oil, gas or mineral leases, and pointedly warned coal developers with existing leases against trying to exploit these pristine lands, saying that “mining is important to our national economy and to our national security. But we can’t have mines everywhere, and we shouldn’t have mines that threaten our national treasures.”

But he didn’t buy out the existing leases, so Conoco was able to file with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for permits to drill on the leases it already held. While Conoco drools over reserves which it estimates to be as high as 4 billion barrels, the wheels have been set in motion to open up this pristine and wild land for drilling.

The day after Conoco’s announcement, the pro-development Utah legislature passed a resolution supporting drilling within the monument. Then, to make matters much worse, Senators Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced a bill to redefine the monument’s uses to include mining and drilling. And just last week, the State of Utah granted Conoco a permit to drill an exploratory well on a parcel of state land within the monument.color>

Here’s what you can do to save the heart of America’s remaining Western wilderness from being riddled with oil rigs, pipelines, power lines, storage tanks, new roads, sludge ponds and an abundance of hominids in hard hats:

For more information, check out the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Utah Wilderness Web site.

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