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Suit Filed to Protect Wildlife, Clean Air and Water from Fracking on Utah’s Ashley National Forest

May 8, 2014
Kevin Mueller (801) 466-4055
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Wildlife  
#KeepItInTheGround, #SafeguardTheSagebrushSea
Salt Lake City, UT—WildEarth Guardians late yesterday filed suit to stop fracking in the Ashley National Forest of Utah, which threatens to push the imperiled sage grouse closer to extinction, ruin roadless areas, and push the Uinta Basin’s dangerously high air and water pollution levels even higher.

“This suit is about drawing the line on fracking in the Uinta Basin,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “The oil and gas industry is turning public lands in this region into an industrial wasteland and now they’re eyeing the Ashley National Forest, the last refuge for wildlife, roadless areas, and uncontaminated air and water. This fossil fuel madness has to stop.”

The lawsuit challenges the U.S. Forest Service’s and Bureau of Land Management’s 2012 decision to open up the South Unit of the Ashley National Forest for Berry Petroleum to drill and frack for oil and gas. The area lies in the southwestern Uinta Basin, located between Price and Duchesne Utah and near Strawberry Reservoir in the headwaters of the Duchesne River.

The agencies approved the drilling and fracking of 400 oil and gas wells, which would produce for up to 50 years, on more than 40 square miles of the National Forest. The project would turn this area of the Ashley National Forest into an industrial zone, complete with a spider web of roads, wellpads, and production facilities.

Click here to see a map of the drilling and its impacts >>

The suit also comes amid pressure from the oil and gas industry for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to open up more lands for oil development and proposals to build new pipelines to the Wasatch Front. More drilling in the Uinta Basin, including in the Ashley National Forest, means more oil refining in the Salt Lake City area, meaning more air pollution in Salt Lake and Davis Counties.

Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management acknowledged the drilling and fracking would spur disastrous results, including: 1) declines of sage grouse and sage grouse habitat; 2) the destruction of 20,000 acres of designated roadless lands that currently quality for wilderness protection; 3) increased sedimentation in streams that are already struggling to comply with water quality standards; and 4) increased particulate matter and smog pollution, even though the region is already struggling to comply with federal particulate and smog limits.

“With 40 miles of new road construction inside protected Inventoried Roadless Area, this monster ruins more roadless than any other project in the country,” said Kevin Mueller, WildEarth Guardians’ Utah and Southern Rockies Conservation Manager. “The Ashley National Forest was made to protect clean air and water, and to protect fish and wildlife. Our National Forests were not designated so that they become industrialized dirty energy sacrifice zones.”

The suit, filed on behalf of Guardians by Western Resource Advocates, calls on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah to hold the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in violation of federal environmental laws, and to enjoin any further drilling and fracking.

“The Uinta Basin is already struggling to comply with basic health and environmental standards, yet the federal government is signing off on more fossil fuel development,” said Joro Walker, Attorney with Western Resource Advocates. “This is head-in-the-sand decisions making at its worst and we intend to do everything in power to overturn it.”

As support, the suit relies on the agencies’ own environmental reviews, which admit that wildlife, roadless areas, air, and water will be further degraded. In comments to the agencies, even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency commented why more was not being proposed to safeguard air and water from the impacts of drilling and fracking.

For More Information Contact:

Joro Walker, Attorney with Western Resource Advocates, (801) 487-9911
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director, (303) 437-7663