Natural Gas and Oil Leases – Controversy in Utah

Should we allow natural gas drilling within a few miles of some of the West’s most iconic national parks? This is one of the many questions the current administration is wrestling with, inheriting a legacy of what many Western citizens – Democrats and Republicans alike – consider to be years of unbalanced, pro-industry decisions and regulations by federal land management agencies.

Drilling leases (red) just 3 miles from Arches National Park

SkyTruth has produced a gallery of images showing the locations of 77 leases for natural gas and oil drilling, on public land in Utah, that were auctioned off to the oil and gas industry by the Bureau of Land Management in December 2008. These leases were suspended by the federal government in February 2009 pending further review by the Department of the Interior, after receiving over 1,600 complaints from environmental groups, the Outdoor Industry Association, sportsmen organizations, and a collection of river runners, guides, and outfitters.

Several of the leases are adjacent to, or within a few miles of, Dinosaur National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park.

We’ve included a few images showing current drilling operations in nearby parts of the Uinta Basin, to give you an idea of how severely the suspended areas could be altered if Interior decides to go ahead and approve the leases.

Typical network of drilling locations, roads and pipelines, and wastewater holding ponds associated with natural gas drilling, seen here in the nearby Uinta Basin of central Utah

Get more background info on drilling in Utah, and keep up with the latest on this issue, at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance website. Because this fight isn’t over yet — some of these leases may get reinstated.

NASA Launches New Weather Satellite

GOES-14 launch – click to see a larger image

On June 27, 2009, NASA successfully launched GOES-14, the newest in a long line of workhorse weather satellites, and will soon turn over operation of the bird to NOAA. Most of the images you see on TV weather reports come from the GOES satellites. They’re low-resolution, but cover huge chunks of the planet in a single view. And since they are geostationary (the “G” in GOES) — parked at an altitude of 22,000 miles where the orbital motion of the satellite precisely keeps time with the rotation of the earth — these satellites are continuously monitoring cloud patterns and other atmospheric parameters, allowing forecasters to predict the weather and keep a close eye on severe storms.

GOES image of Hurricane Katrina, August 28, 2005

Here at SkyTruth, we use GOES images to help us track the motion of hurricanes that threaten offshore oil and gas facilities, and to evaluate the wind and rain conditions in an area when we’re acquiring satellite radar images to detect and map oil slicks. With another hurricane season upon us, we’re glad to see this perfect launch.