A view of Labyrinth Canyon with the Twin Bridges Resources lease area highlighted. [Photo: Pete McBride / EcoFlight]

A federal judge has denied a request for an injunction on drilling for helium near Labyrinth Canyon, just west of Bowknot Bend in Emery County.

Twin Bridges Resources and Pure Helium plan to drill for helium just two miles from the Green River on leases on state trust land. The areas they intend to drill on are “cherry-stemmed” into the recently designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness.

After the Bureau of Land Management fast-tracked the drilling project a coalition of environmental groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed for an emergency injunction on Dec. 18. District Court Judge Contreras issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 22, just days before the extraction company was slated to begin work. On Jan. 12, a longer-term restraining order was denied, allowing helium extraction to begin on two of the leases.

“Unfortunately, what happens as a result of the judge’s order is that the company now has the green light to move forward with its plans to industrialize this remote part of Southeast Utah,” said Landon Newell, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Our litigation will continue, and we plan on pursuing our legal claims.”

“It’s an unfortunate circumstance, because in many regards, even if we were to prevail down the road, a lot of the damage would have already happened at that point,” said Newell.

Although the district court permitted the drilling on the state trust land leases, the lawsuit will still continue with regards to the third helium drilling lease, which is on federal land.

Newell said that he didn’t expect the coming administration change to have an effect on this particular issue, but overall he expects a huge change in the goals of federal land managers.

“It’s going to be a near-complete 180 from what we’ve seen over the last four years,” said Newell. “That’s going to be very positive and will have long-term positive impacts to wildlife, to special places like this.”