Last Thursday, February 15th, I had the opportunity to provide information about federal oil and gas leasing and development to a crowd of lively, interested citizens in Livingston, Montana — the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Park County Environmental Council (PCEC), a local nonprofit and one of Guardians’ allies in our fight to keep oil and gas in the ground, organized the meeting. PCEC live-streamed the event on Facebook, so if you didn’t get a chance to make it to the meeting, check our their page for a video of my presentation! A factsheet I created about the oil and gas leasing process is also available here.
Even though it was a cold, windy night (like most nights in Livingston in the winter), almost 100 people attended the meeting to get informed, take action, and to grill three local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials about the potential harms to Montana from oil and gas leasing, development, and fracking.
Among other things, my presentation touched on the exponential increases in federal public lands giveaways for fracking in Montana and across the West. For example, as I mentioned last month, the BLM is on track to lease 2 million acres or more of public lands in six key western states in 2018 — twice of what was leased in 2018.
Montana is not immune to this craze. The most recent lease sales, in December 2017, March 2018, and June 2018, target 260,000 acres of public land for the auction block. And, industry interest in buying up federal public minerals at rock bottom prices in Montana also seems to be increasing. At the December 2017 BLM lease sale in Montana (with parcels near the iconic Tongue River Valley), the BLM sold 80% of the parcels offered at either the competitive or noncompetitive sale. Most parcels sold for the obscenely low price of $1.50 to $2 an acre.
To add injury to insult, this massive scale privatization of American public lands in the West is occurring while Secretary Zinke’s BLM systematically undermines and eliminates the public’s ability to make their voices heard on federal public lands giveaways for fracking. At the end of January the BLM issued new guidance on oil and gas leasing (BLM Instruction Memorandum 2018-034) which allows the federal government to eliminate public review of lease sale parcels. Past guidance made public review mandatory. Furthermore, the BLM cut the time period to submit an administrative appeal of the lease sales down from 30 days to 10 days. Clearly, Secretary Zinke’s BLM does not want to hear from American citizens.
The people of Livingston, Montana are pretty upset about the BLM’s proposal to destroy their livelihood and viewshed without their input, and you should be too. Secretary Zinke and the BLM work for the American people, not the special interests such as the oil and gas industry. Not only do we have a right to be heard, we have a right to be taken seriously when we say that fracking in Montana is unacceptable. And, it is not just Montana that is at risk. Trump and Zinke are sacrificing lands across the American West on a daily basis.
So, what can you do? Well, you’re taking the first step now. Get informed, stay informed, spread the word, tell your neighbor, forward this blog post. After that, its time to take action. Sign PCEC’s petition calling for the removal of the parcels near Livingston, but, don’t stop there. The rest of Montana and the West needs your support as well. Look for an action alert from Guardians with a statewide petition against the Montana lease sales. Call the BLM, Zinke, and Montana’s Congressional delegation. Repeat for each state in the West. Once these leases are sold, the oil and gas industry has the right to explore and BLM cannot completely stop the drilling and fracking. Now is the time to act!