Climate + Energy

Public Lands Giveaways for Fracking Set to Double in Size in 2018

Drillings rigs and pump jacks

An oil pump jack lies idle in the foreground while a new well is drilled in the background in the Pawnee National Grassland of Colorado.

2017 is winding to a close, and already Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management is gearing up to massively expand its giveaways of public lands in the American West to the oil and gas industry for fracking in 2018. The BLM’s lease sales for the first half of 2018 total almost 1 million acres – the total amount leased for all of 2017. In sum, in 2018 Zinke and Trump are on pace to double the amount of public lands they gave away in 2017.

2018 Lease Sale Acres

Not only is the acreage of public lands sacrificed for private profit increasing, but many of the 2018 lease sales are located directly next to sacred cultural areas, local communities, and iconic scenery.

For example, the BLM plans to giveaway three parcels in March 2018 lease sale in Montana right next to the quaint town of Livingston, Montana. Livingston is a thriving community a hour north of the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. As Dan Sullivan, the owner of Mustang Fresh Foods in Livingston, put it:

“[T]he wild lands and clean water sustain our economy and our way of life. My business depends on people that visit these wild places and hope to catch a fish or see a bear. The BLM has the responsibility to manage these lands for all Americans, not for oil and gas developers. Small businesses in Park County are the lifeblood of this community, we can’t afford to risk that.”

Guardians has been working extensively with local allies to push back against this sale.

Livingston main street

The Absaroka Mountains rise behind Main street, Livingston, MT.

That’s not all for Montana, either. The June 2018 sale in Montana has grave implications for the Tongue River Valley, a scenic, agricultural valley in the southeastern corner of the state.  These leases, coupled with the leases from the December 2017 sale total 203,000 acres in  an area that has never seen industrial-scale drilling and fracking.  As Guardians noted in an October blog post on the December 2017 lease sale in Montana,

“. . . [H]orizontal drilling and fracking will devastate this beautiful area. . . . Fracking means thousands of semis tearing up rural roads and kicking up dust, massive increases in air pollution and greenhouse gases, and large scale water use for fracking. There are also concerns about water contamination from frack fluids, earthquakes from waste water disposal, and the social impacts on communities that result from an influx of new people.”

Tongue River Valley Leases Dec. and June

December 2017 (in purple) and June 2018 (in blue) lease parcels in the Tongue River Valley.

Sadly, the plans in the Montana are only the tip of the iceberg for 2018. Trump and Zinke are also taking aim at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico despite calls from the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors for a moratorium on drilling and fracking. In March 2018, the BLM plans to auction off 25 parcels containing 4,434 acres of publicly-owned land. The leases are located near the homes of Navajo residents and just outside a 10-mile buffer from Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

The good news is, although the onslaught of attacks on our public lands across the West is increasing, the BLM is cutting corners to push these large lease sales through.  Guardians has been calling BLM out with extensive comments and has plans to administratively appeal every lease sale in 2018. Guardians has also been working closely with new and old allies to maximize push back on each and every lease sale.

So, while Zinke and the BLM are doubling the acreage for giveaways in 2018, we’re doubling down to make sure none of these public lands are sacrificed to the oil and gas industry at the expense of our communities, our climate, our clean air, our water, or our wildlife. Back to work!

Yellowstone River

A view of the Yellowstone River outside of Livingston, Montana. Oil and gas leases are proposed less than a mile from here.

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