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We Need a Fracking Moratorium on Our Public Lands

While Trump Sells Our Lands to Oil and Gas Industry, We’re Holding Firm in Demanding Climate Action

With the backing of our landmark court ruling this week, we’re stepping up our push for a fracking moratorium on our public lands.

Alongside the Western Environmental Law Center and Physicians for Social Responsibility, yesterday we called on the Bureau of Land Management to back down from plans to sell public lands for fracking in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming

Because while our court ruling directly affected public lands in Wyoming, it stands as an indictment of the entire federal oil and gas leasing program.

In his ruling, Judge Contreras rebuked the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management for failing to account for the cumulative climate consequences of selling public lands for fracking not just in Wyoming, but regionally and nationally.

He specifically ripped the agencies for being too narrow in their scope of analysis and actions given the nature of climate change, soundly holding that they violated federal law.

Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling.

– U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras

What this means is that unless and until the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management address the cumulative climate impacts of selling public lands for fracking throughout the U.S., they have no legal basis to authorize any new oil and gas leasing.

Notwithstanding this, the Administration is still ramping up plans to sell off the American West to the oil and gas industry.

This month alone, more than 560,000 acres of the western U.S. will be sold for fracking.

This acreage includes lands in the Greater Chaco and Greater Carlsbad regions of New Mexico, in western Wyoming’s Red Desert, in southeastern Utah’s Greater Bears Ears region, in southeast Montana’s Tongue River Valley, and next to Colorado’s Pike-San Isabel National Forest.

And so far in 2019, more than 2.2 million acres have either been put on the auction block or will soon be. Click here to see the table so far of lands proposed for sacrifice this year.

See for yourself what’s at stake. Check out the interactive map below and explore exactly what lands will be up for sale this month and what lands are slated for the auction block in coming months (and click here to see larger version of the map >>).


We’ve estimated that for every acre of public lands sold for fracking, 27.63 metric tons of carbon are released annually.

With 2.2 million acres on the auction block so far in 2019, that’s more than 60 million metric tons of climate pollution that could be unleashed.

That’s equal to the amount of carbon released annually by more than 15 coal-fired power plants (according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator).

All this just underscores the urgent need for a moratorium on selling public lands for fracking. And with our court win in hand, we intend to step up our push for just that.

Fracking on public lands at the foot of Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Because now, more than ever, there’s simply no excuse for not keeping our fossil fuels ground, especially on public lands.

As climate scientists (including within the Interior Department) sound the alarms over climate change and as studies confirm that public lands fossil fuel production is a major contributor to global warming in the U.S., we can’t afford to let another acre of our lands be sold to the oil and gas industry.

No doubt, oil and gas companies and their cronies in the Trump Administration are going to fight back against a moratorium.

The President’s climate denial is giving industry backing to ravage public lands and communities across the American West. We have no illusion that oil and gas interests will willingly acknowledge the reality of climate change or agree to anything other than limitless fracking.

Still, we have the upper hand. With the science, the popular support, and now the law on our side, we are on track to secure a moratorium on public lands fracking.

Whether or not the oil and gas industry or Trump like it or agree to it, we will secure climate justice.

Jeremy Nichols

About the Author

Jeremy Nichols | Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians

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