Climate + Energy

VICTORY: Great Sand Dunes National Park Spared From Fracking For Now

Update: On July 30, WildEarth Guardians and a coalition of allies filed an appeal of the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction away thousands of acres of Colorado public lands for fracking. While the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was spared, countless other lands remained on the chopping block. We won’t back down and we won’t rest on any laurels unless and until we’re keeping all our oil and gas in the ground where it belongs.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the spring. Photo credit: Patrick Myers, NPS, Flickr.

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.

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A map demonstrating the potential overlap between the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease parcels and the Navajo Nation’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.

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Elk in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Photo credit: Patrick Myers, NPS, Flickr.

This lease first, think later approach appears to be a continuing theme for the Trump AdministrationIn 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.

2018 Lease Sale Acres as of July (dragged)

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.

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