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Trump and Zinke Target Utah’s Clean Air and Monuments

15780703314_3db549560f_oWildEarth Guardians is taking aim at plans by President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, to sacrifice the American West’s clean air and iconic public lands for fracking.

At the end of last week, we filed an administrative appeal, also called a protest, against plans by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to auction off 94,000 acres of public land in eastern Utah for fracking.

Four of the parcels scheduled to be sold in December 2017 are directly next to Dinosaur National Monument. The Monument is renowned for its dark night skies, petroglyphs, an “extraordinary deposit” dinosaur fossils, and stunning geological formations.

Surprisingly, even the Governor of Utah is opposed to allowing oil and gas directly next to the Monument. In response to these concerns, Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management “deferred” two of the parcels right next to the entrance of the Monument. But, this action  means nothing. Deferred parcels are not permanently protected from development.

Dinosaur Natl Monument

Petroglyphs at Dinosaur National Monument, photo credit: Mark Byzewski

Yet while the treasures protected by Dinosaur National Monument are at risk, the bigger concern is what ramped up fracking means for the region’s clean air.

The majority of the public lands up for sale are in the Uinta Basin, an area that even the State of Utah has said is failing to meet Clean Air Act health limits on ground-level ozone, which is the key ingredient of smog.

With the town of Vernal at its core, the Uinta Basin lies at the southern foot of the Uinta Mountains in northeastern Utah. The region is dissected by the iconic Green River, which flows out of Dinosaur National Monument.

Ground-level ozone is hazardous to public health. It forms when emissions from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas production operations react with sunlight. Two key pollutants, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are the main culprits.

In the Uinta Basin, the oil and gas industry is responsible for the region’s dangerous smog pollution. More than 11,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and fracked in the region and thousands more are in the works. The emissions associated with this development have produced pollution that rivals the Denver Metro Area.

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All told, the oil and gas industry is responsible for 98% of all VOC emissions and 67% of all NOx emissions in the Uinta Basin.

The emissions from drilling, fracking, and production in the Uinta Basin equal the amount released from more than 100 million cars.  The pollution is so bad that it’s even spilled over into neighboring Colorado.

Here’s a breakdown of oil and gas industry emissions in both the Colorado and Utah portions of the Uinta Basin and compared with emissions in Denver and Weld County, Colorado, which is also heavily impacted by oil and gas development.

uinta basin emissionsUnder the Clean Air Act, federal agencies can’t undertake actions if they make air pollution problems worse in areas that are failing to meet federal health standards.  In the Uinta Basin, this means the Bureau of Land Management can’t open the door for more fracking unless and until the agency can guarantee clean air.

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management completely disregarded this duty.

In our protest, we confronted the agency’s disregard for clean air and public health, and called on the agency to cancel its plans to auction off public lands for fracking. As we said to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The region is suffering a smog crisis and the Bureau of Land Management is turning a blind eye to the problem.”

We’ll see how the agency responds. In the meantime, the clean air crisis in the Uinta Basin isn’t improving.

Clean air has to come first in the Uinta Basin and we’re working to ensure that happens. Stay tuned for more.

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