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Frequently Asked Questions: Mining in Wilderness

Won’t mineral extraction be hindered by wilderness designation?

Substantial coal deposits within the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s proposal lie in the Kaiparowits, Book Cliffs, and Henry Mountains coal fields. These deposits generally are too remote from markets, and are too difficult to reach, and present extreme problems of mining and reclamation. Of these, only the Book Cliffs field has significant current production. Current coal production could be sustained from reserves in central Utah for nearly two centuries. This production would not be impacted by wilderness designation.

Oil and Gas
Although the BLM states that 80 of its wilderness study areas (WSAs) could contain oil and gas, it acknowledges that there is low likelihood of finding deposits of developable quantity. Recent exploration suggests that deeply buried Precambrian rocks may contain hydrocarbons. The depth of these speculative deposits exceeds that of existing Utah oil fields and extraction costs would be substantially greater. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Utah already has the second-highest drilling cost per barrel for any state containing significant oil and gas reserves.

Demand for uranium in the United States has fallen considerably since the late 1970s. Resulting price reductions have rendered Utah uranium uneconomical. Moreover, huge deposits of uranium ore have been opened in Australia and Canada. U.S. production is more likely to come from lower-cost uranium reserves in Wyoming, New Mexico, and northern Arizona than from wilderness deposits in Utah.

Tar Sands
Though in-place resources of tar sand may be extensive, their commercial viability in the foreseeable future is nil. Tar sands deposits in Utah have been identified by the U.S. Bureau of Mines to be lean and of only moderate quality due to high sulfur content.

Utah wild lands are unlikely to be significant producers of potash because of much larger known deposits closer to transportation and markets.

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