Last Thursday, WildEarth Guardians and our allies filed a protest (an administrative appeal) of Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s decision to move forward with giveaways of federal public lands for oil and gas leasing in Montana. Zinke oversees the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency proposing to sacrifice 63,000 acres of federal public lands for fracking at its March 2018 lease sale.
Guardians was joined on the protest by six other groups, including Livingston-based Park County Environmental Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Montana Environmental Information Center, Northern Plains Resource Council, Preserve the Beartooth Front, and 350 Montana.
As we’ve noted before, Livingston, Montana – quaint town in the middle of Montana and the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park – is in the crosshairs of the BLM. Locals are outraged by the BLM’s proposal to frack within the viewshed of the town. As Michelle Uberuaga, a local citizen and executive director of Park County Environmental Council stated:
“The parcels up for auction as part of this lease sale border our community, the Yellowstone River, and are directly within the iconic viewshed of downtown Livingston. Fracking these public lands would be devastating to both our community health and local economy.”
The iconic Beartooth Front, near Red Lodge, Montana is also on the auction block. A number of the lease parcels in this area are right next to the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, an important agricultural valley. In comments on BLM’s draft environmental assessment, landowners noted that three parcels “border the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, which is used by farmers and ranchers for irrigation and a water sources for many Montanans downstream.” Although BLM is proposing to restrict some surface use near these parcels, BLM is still planning to sell them off to the highest bidder.
Beyond the site-specific concerns, Guardians’ protest also highlighted BLM’s failure to analyze the impacts of fracking in an area that has seen little to no development. Fracking can have huge, irreversible consequences for our public lands, clean air and water, and for our climate. And, fracking is becoming an even more industrialized process. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on January 15,
“In the Permian Basin in Texas, Encana has built a “mega pad” that is slated to hold 64 wells. It has been described as spanning the length of eight football fields and the width of two and is, by the company’s account, a very busy site with multiple rigs operating in tandem.”
Guardians also hammered the BLM on its failure to analyze the impacts from the increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the proposed lease sale in conjunction with BLM lease sales in the surrounding area. Oil and gas leasing on public lands is a major contributor to global warming in the United States. Leasing opens the door for oil and gas drilling and fracking, and more fossil fuel burning. Reports indicate 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to oil and gas development from public lands and waters.
The BLM’s March 2018 oil and gas lease sale is unfortunately only part of Trump and Zinke’s plan to giveaway the West to the oil and gas industry. In 2017, the BLM auctioned off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states. The BLM’s lease sales for the first half of 2018 in those same states already total almost 1 million acres. Guardians latest story map (linked below) highlights some of the key places at risk in 2018.
2018 is shaping up to be a challenging year, but Guardians is gearing up to meet it. We have plans to comment on and protest every BLM oil and gas lease sale in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming in 2018 and well are on our way to doing so. In the last month, we’ve submitted protests of BLM’s March 2018 oil and gas giveaways in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. And, we’re just getting started. As we’ve said before, our public lands are just too special to lose to the greed of Trump, Zinke, and the oil and gas industry. So watch out BLM, here we come!