For EcoFlight’s latest flight mission we flew over the desert near the White and Green Rivers, our passengers included Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorneys, photographer, and John McChesney from Stanford University.
Our flight line first took us over the White River and documented the oil wells and holding ponds in this watershed. We then flew over the Green River at the mouth of Desolation Canyon, where whitewater float trips draw 60,000 visitor days of use per year. It is the largest block of federal wild lands in the lower 48, and it is also where the Interior Department recently decided to back a proposal allowing nearly 1,300 oil and gas wells on over 200,000 acres. This alternative increases the amount of drilling in the area beyond what was originally proposed by Gasco, and puts over 200 wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas.
The Interior Department's decision could result in lasting damage to the solitude of Desolation Canyon and flies in the face of the viable alternative supported by congressional leaders, conservationists, recreationists and tens of thousands of citizens that endorsed an alternative drilling plan that would have allowed Gasco to develop the majority of the project area and at the same time protected the sanctity of the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness.
On this flight we also looked at oil sands research sites and land leased for future development of oil sands. The Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands hopes to break ground on its oil sands strip mine this year - pending a court challenge to a 2009 decision which would allow the company to place its waste in unlined pits. If allowed, the company will conduct operations on 200 acres, including 90 acres of strip mines. If the initial extraction is successful, the company plans to expand its operations onto 31,685 acres of leases in the region. The oil sands are located 30 feet below the surface. Excavating those sands would involve stripping the land of vegetation, removing the topsoil, and strip mining for the resource.