Yesterday, Guardians and our allies scored another victory in the fight to keep our federal oil and gas in the ground. The Bureau of Land Management announced that it was postponing plans to auction off 18,000+ acres federal public lands for oil and gas drilling and fracking less than a mile from Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
The Bureau of Land Management is deferring 11 parcels near the park in order to complete Tribal consultation with the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation purchased land just north of the proposed leases in December 2017. According to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, one of the of the proposed parcels for the lease sale is underneath the Tribe’s land.
Although the deferral is welcome news, the decision ignores the environmental impacts that would result from the sale. In April, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Sierra Club, and Wild Connections, submitted extensive comments criticizing Bureau of Land Management’s incomplete analysis on the potential harms to the area’s clean air, water, night skies, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities from drilling and fracking. The Bureau of Land Management has yet to respond to these concerns.
This lease first, think later approach appears to be a continuing theme for the Trump Administration. In March, in response to intense public pressure from conservation groups and Tribal groups, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke removed public lands in New Mexico near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and in Montana near Yellowstone National Park from the auction block. The move came because of concerns about impacts to cultural and environmental resources.
Unfortunately, despite these wins, the pace of federal public lands approved for leasing by the BLM continues to drastically increase in 2018. In 2017, the BLM auctioned off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states. To date, the BLM’s proposed lease sales for 2018 in those same states total almost 2.5 million acres.
This onslaught is why we’ll keep fighting each and every lease sale. Our federal public lands are just that, our lands. 2.5 million acres of the American West do not belong in the hands of the oil and gas industry.