Although WildEarth Guardians’ latest lawsuit over fracking on public lands is about confronting the climate crisis, it’s also about defending our irreplaceable and iconic American lands from oil and gas extraction.
Given this, we thought we’d share a few images and background on the public lands implicated in our latest lawsuit. Click here to see the full map of the areas involved in our case >>
Each of these landscapes is threatened by the Trump Administration and their attempts to sell out American lands to oil and gas companies. If we win our case, these lands will gain a major reprieve from industrialization.
Scroll down to see more!
Pawnee National Grassland, Colorado
Our case involves several tracts of land in the Pawnee National Grassland of northeast Colorado, home to the iconic Pawnee Buttes. The Grassland itself is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, but the minerals underneath are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
We’ve been working for years to defend the Pawnee from fracking. With our latest lawsuit, we’re taking a stand for this often overlooked, yet unmatched high plains landscape.
Red Desert, Wyoming
The Red Desert of southwestern Wyoming is an amazingly wild landscape and contains the highest concentration of Bureau of Land Management-designated Wilderness Study Areas in all of the American West. Located just south of the Wind River Range, the region sustains a desert elk herd, migratory pronghorn, deer, and many other wildlife species.
In the last three years, the Trump Administration has effectively liquidated the Red Desert to the oil and gas industry, auctioning off hundreds of thousands of acres for fracking. Our lawsuit aims to overturn these sales and safeguard the Red Desert.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Fracking has boomed recently in the Greater Carlsbad region of southeast New Mexico, tied to the broader explosion in oil and gas production in the Permian Basin. At the doorstep of this boom is Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is world-renowned not just for its extensive underground cave system, but its stunning above-ground natural beauty.
Oil and gas extraction in the region not only threatens the cave systems of Carlsbad Caverns, but is fueling dangerous air pollution and threatening water contamination. Our lawsuit targets the sale of more than 55,000 acres of public lands for fracking in the Greater Carlsbad region.
Tongue River Valley, Montana
Southeast Montana’s Tongue River Valley is relatively frack-free at the moment. Its remote rolling hills, pine breaks, and the thriving Tongue River have experienced little oil and gas extraction over the years.
Sadly, that might change. As the Trump Administration has sold thousands of acres of public lands for fracking in this region in recent years, it’s clear the oil and gas industry is looking for a new play and a new opportunity to profit from the exploitation of American lands.
Our lawsuit seeks to overturn the sale of thousands of acres of lands for fracking in the Tongue River Valley and to defend the region from fossil fuel industrialization.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Not more than 20 miles away from Bryce Canyon National Park, the Trump Administration offered thousands of acres of public lands for fracking in Utah. Oil and gas extraction these lands stands to fuel air pollution in the Park and industrialize this otherwise undeveloped landscape.
Our case challenges the proposal to sell public lands near Bryce Canyon for fracking and to keep the greater Bryce Canyon area frack-free.
Powder River Basin, Wyoming
The Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming is undergoing an intense fracking boom and the sale of public lands is enabling unbridled oil and gas extraction. Located east of the Bighorn Mountains and west of the Black Hills of South Dakota, this vast region is a unique expanse of untouched high prairie.
The Powder River Basin contains both the Thunder Basin National Grassland and a checkerboard of lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. While these lands have remained relatively undeveloped over the years, the latest fracking boom stands to transform them into industrial sacrifice zones.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The Trump Administration is even selling public lands for fracking on the doorstep of Montana’s Glacier National Park and right next to the Blackfeet Tribe’s Reservation. Over the last three years, thousands of acres of public lands have been sold for fracking in Glacier and Toole Counties, both gateways to the greater Glacier National Park region.
The sale of public lands for fracking east of Glacier National Park is doubly injurious and insulting given that the climate crisis is destroying the Park’s iconic glaciers.
Our case challenges the sale of public lands near Glacier and hopefully will help defend the Park from future climate destruction.
North Park, Colorado
Colorado’s North Park is nestled between the Park Range on the west and the Never Summer Mountains to the east, a high mountain valley that is incredibly rural and wild. At its core is the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, which supports thriving populations of sage grouse, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The region even attracts a wolf every now and then.
Sadly, this region has been devastatingly exploited for oil and gas in recent years. Companies have fracked for oil and simply flare gas as waste. It’s the worst example of how the oil and gas industry uses public lands to subsidize wasteful production and marginal development.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Even America’s iconic Yellowstone National Park is at risk from the Trump Administration’s sale of public lands for fracking. The Administration has sold thousands of acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry within 30 miles of this most iconic Park, mostly near the town of Cody, Wyoming.
The Greater Yellowstone region is a wilderness gem in the lower 48 United States, supporting an immense diversity of fish and wildlife. Fracking near the Park threatens to impact wildlife, air quality, and the integrity of this natural landscape.
While we’re working hard to confront the climate crisis, it’s important to remember that ultimately, this is about protecting America’s public lands.
As 2020 gets underway, WildEarth Guardians is ringing in the New Year by delivering another round of climate accountability to the oil and gas industry and their cronies in the Trump Administration.
Together with our partners with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, this week we dropped two new major legal filings on the Administration. Both challenge the failure of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to address the cumulative climate impacts of selling American public lands for fracking.
Enforcing Landmark Federal Court Ruling
On Monday January 6, 2020, we filed the opening brief in a lawsuit targeting the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of more than 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming.
We originally won this lawsuit, as well as an injunction on drilling in Wyoming, back in March of 2019. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras held the federal government illegally failed to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from selling public lands for fracking both regionally and nationally.
The ruling was hailed as a landmark victory. It ultimately compelled the Bureau of Land Management to also acknowledge that it had also failed to comply with federal law when selling more than 150,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Colorado and Utah.
“[The] agency must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”
— U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management refused to comply with the court’s order.
Instead of honestly assessing and disclosing the climate consequences of authorizing more oil and gas extraction, the agency rushed to do more paperwork and ultimately re-approve the same decision the federal judge said was illegal.
While we tried to enforce Judge Contreras’ injunction, he ultimately directed us to amend our lawsuit. In doing so, he warned that he would not hesitate to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking and encouraged the agency to refrain from approving any more drilling.
So, in late September 2019, we amended our lawsuit and now we’re proceeding to brief the matter. With our opening brief now filed, a ruling is likely by the end of 2020.
A New Lawsuit and a Major Climate Action Ramp-up
Not content to just challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to account for the climate consequences of selling 300,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Wyoming, on Thursday January 9, 2020, we filed a brand new lawsuit targeting the Trump Administration’s sale of nearly two million acres of public lands for fracking.
Together with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Western Environmental Law Center, our latest suit is a major escalation in our efforts to defend the climate from fracking on public lands.
The case targets the sale of public lands to the oil and gas industry in five western states, including Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. It includes a whopping 1.9 million acres of public lands, including more than 1.6 million acres in Wyoming.
It’s the biggest lawsuit that’s ever been filed over public lands oil and gas leasing.
Our latest case aims to build on our previous win and secure broader and deeper accountability to climate by the Bureau of Land Management. And it comes as the Trump Administration is not only taking aim at the disclosure of climate impacts under federal law, but actively denying the climate crisis.
And with scientists increasingly highlighting the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground on public lands to protect the climate, we have to push back harder than ever on the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of public lands for fracking.
Our aim? To overturn the sale of every acre of public lands sold to the oil and gas industry by the Trump Administration. With our latest lawsuit, we’re on track to make that happen.
Most importantly, this week of action to defend our climate and public lands from fracking is critical for confronting the climate impacts of the entire federal onshore and offshore oil and gas programs.
Currently, Democratic candidates for U.S. President are largely endorsing an end to selling public lands for fracking. Our legal actions stand to provide the motivation and backing for any Democratic candidate for President to follow through with this vision.
And if Democrats don’t win in 2020, our legal advocacy will serve as an important check on the Trump Administration. Either way, our lawsuits are setting the stage for accountability to climate and to public lands.
If we have any chance of confronting the climate crisis, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground. That starts with our public lands.
Stay tuned for more as WildEarth Guardians and its partners continue to hold the line for our climate, our future, and for the American West.
This week and part of next, a series of public events are set to unfold that will advance efforts to safeguard clean air and rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution in Colorado. You can show up, speak out, and help make a difference!
Billed as a “Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado,” WildEarth Guardians will be joining a coalition of allies to show up on the frontlines and ensure strong, new rules are adopted that put Colorado on the path for clean air, a safe climate, and healthy communities.
To really win, we need your help! Everyone in Colorado has a chance to engage. Below is the schedule of events. Scroll down even further for more background info.
Week of Action for Clean Air in Colorado!
- Tuesday, December 10: The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission is holding a public comment hearing from 6-8 PM in Rifle (on the Western Slope) around new rules to rein in the fracking industry’s toxic air pollution and holding a public comment hearing. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Wednesday December 11: The Air Quality Control Commission will hold another public comment hearing from 6-8 in Durango. This is a chance to show up and speak out for stronger clean air rules, click here for more info >>
- Thursday December 12: This morning there’s a big federal court hearing in WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit against seven oil and gas companies for violating the Clean Air Act in Colorado. This lawsuit challenges industry’s abuse of the 90-day loophole, which allows companies to frack without legally required clean air permits. The hearing starts at 9:30 AM and will take place at the federal courthouse in Denver.
- Monday December 16: The Air Quality Control Commission is holding another public comment hearing for oil and gas clean air rules, this one is in Loveland and starts at 4:30 PM, This is a chance for Colorado Front Range residents to show up and speak out for stronger rules, click here for more info >>
- Tuesday December 17 through Thursday December 19: The Air Quality Control Commission is set to kick off its formal rulemaking hearing. WildEarth Guardians will be providing testimony and advocating for stronger rules on behalf of the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition. We’ll also be fighting back against industry efforts to weaken new rules.
If you can’t show up to one or more of these events, then at least sign our petition calling on Colorado Governor Jared Polis to get behind stronger clean air rules, including a ban on flaring!
The oil and gas industry’s toxic emissions are not only fueling dangerous levels of ground-level ozone, particularly along the Front Range, but also threatening communities and residents with cancer-causing benzene and other harmful gases.
It’s no wonder regulators have been blunt that current levels of fracking pollution are “not acceptable.”
Spurred in large part by the passage of new state legislation that puts public health and safety ahead of the interests of the oil and gas industry, the Air Commission is weighing whether to adopt new rules to clamp down on emissions.
Deemed a “first step” to fully confronting the oil and gas industry’s pollution, the rules stand to eliminate loopholes, tighten controls, and ensure greater transparency around companies’ emissions.
The proposed rules come as report after report shows regulation is dangerously inadequate.
Current rules are not only flawed, but not effectively enforced. Researchers also continue to confirm that regulators have drastically underestimated total emissions, erroneously claiming that industry’s pollution has been reduced.
What’s more, health studies continue to confirm significant short and long-term risk to people and communities in proximity to fracking sites.
Compounding these health risks, the Denver Metro/Front Range region continues to fail to meet health standards for ozone, the key ingredient of smog. On December 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will declare the area a “serious” nonattainment area for ozone.
To top it off, industry is chronically violating clean air laws, abusing a loophole that in some situations allows companies to obtain permits to frack after drilling and beginning production.
Last May, WildEarth Guardians sued seven companies in federal court under the Clean Air Act to put an end to this abuse and these widespread violations. A hearing in this case is scheduled for this Thursday, December 12 in Denver.
There is a need for stronger clean air rules in Colorado, to eliminate loopholes, and to slash emissions. And the Air Quality Control Commission has adopt new rules as a first step forward.
However, from our perspective, the science is clear that to truly restore clean air, the state has to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction.
Coupled with the need to fully safeguard public health and protect the climate, Colorado needs to ultimately get off fossil fuels.
If the Governor is serious about clean air and health, then he has to support the Air Quality Control Commission and also push for even deeper pollution cuts and a move away from oil and gas extraction.
We’ll see how everything unfolds over the next week or so. Hopefully Colorado will take the first big step toward reining in the oil and gas industry’s toxic air pollution and set the stage to help the state transition away from fossil fuels.
While Colorado has made bold commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if Governor Jared Polis overlooks the full carbon footprint of the oil and gas industry, the state stands to fall short of achieving meaningful climate action.
Implementing the Colorado Climate Action Plan
This week, officials with the Governor’s Office, Department of Public Health and Environment, and Energy Office are set to unveil a roadmap for meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals.
At the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission’s monthly meeting this Thursday, they’ll share more around the “development, scope, and timing” of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state.
The briefing comes as the Air Commission will develop rules to implement House Bill 19-1261, otherwise known as the Colorado Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution. The Plan sets three key goals for reducing climate pollution:
- Achieve a 26% reduction (below 2005 levels) in statewide greenhouse gases by 2025;
- Then achieve a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030; and
- Finally achieve a 90% reduction in emissions by 2050.
Without a doubt, these are aggressive goals. Achieving them is exactly the bold action needed to confront the climate crisis right now.
However, if Governor Polis and the Air Commission aren’t careful, any statewide climate gains could be erased in the face of ramped up fracking.
The reason: Colorado is a huge exporter of oil and gas.
Colorado’s Outsized Climate Footprint
That means Colorado has an outsized climate footprint that extends far beyond its state lines. But just how big is this footprint?
We can calculate that using factors developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that estimate how much lifecycle carbon pollution (i.e., from production to consumption) is tied to oil and gas production.
According to these factors:
- For every barrel of oil produced, 0.43 metric tons of carbon dioxide is ultimately released.
- And for every thousand cubic feet of gas produced, 0.0551 metric tons of carbon is ultimately released.
Doing some math, we can see how much climate pollution Colorado exports as it pipes, trucks, and otherwise ships oil and gas out of state.
Let’s take oil and gas production in 2018.
According to a query of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission production data, companies sold more than 176 million barrels of oil and more than 2.2 billion thousand cubic feet (i.e., 2.2 trillion cubic feet) of gas in 2018, an unprecedented amount.
Crunch the numbers and that adds up to nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emission.
Based on projections for 2019, where even higher levels of production are expected, we’ll likely see emissions associated with oil and gas production exceed 200 million metric tons.
The table below shows total production by year and estimated carbon emissions.
To put this all into perspective, Colorado’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory report discloses that in 2015, total statewide emissions from ALL sectors amounted to nearly 127 million metric tons of carbon.
By 2020, regulators project statewide emissions of a little over 125 million metric tons of carbon.
That means oil and gas production is responsible for nearly twice as much climate pollution as all other sources of emissions within the state of Colorado.
Also to put this into perspective, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, 200 million metric tons of carbon equals the amount of climate pollution released every year by 51 coal-fired power plants.
Now it’s true, not all oil and gas produced is shipped out of state to be burned.
Yet with more than 90% of oil and the vast majority of all gas exported, it still means statewide emissions pale in comparison to the climate footprint of the oil and gas industry.
Confronting Colorado’s Full Climate Impacts
This means at current rates of fracking, even if Colorado achieves its greenhouse gas reduction goals, it will still be responsible for a huge amount of climate pollution.
Any climate action plan that refuses to acknowledge this or do anything about it would be an utter failure.
So what can Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission do?
Even though Colorado’s Climate Action Plan is based on statewide greenhouse gas reductions, it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t prioritize opportunities to reduce emissions that lead to reductions in oil and gas emissions even outside the state.
For example, the Air Commission could prioritize setting rules that actually decrease the level of oil and gas production in Colorado, such as through a declining cap on emissions and an offsetting program.
And it doesn’t mean that regulators can’t start to disclose total lifecycle oil and gas industry emissions associated with oil and gas production.
Ultimately, Governor Polis and the Air Quality Control Commission have to acknowledge the need to wind down and ultimately phase out oil and gas extraction in the state.
That may be a tough political pill to swallow, but to do otherwise is nothing short of climate denial. The reality is, Colorado can’t frack its way to a safe climate.
A Healthy Move
Helping Colorado transition away from oil and gas production wouldn’t just be good for the climate, it stands to greatly improve the state’s air quality and health.
Along the Front Range “unacceptable” levels of oil and gas industry air pollution have pushed ground-level ozone concentrations to dangerous highs. Ozone, which is a key ingredient of smog, is such a serious problem along the Front Range that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to sanction Colorado for failing to comply with health standards.
The study underscores that reining in fracking near homes and communities will safeguard public health. In doing so, it will also keep greenhouse gases in check.
A Call to Action
WildEarth Guardians and its partners are calling on Governor Polis and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to clamp down on fracking and help the state transition from oil and gas.
However, we need your help to make this happen! If you haven’t yet, sign the petition today and tell Colorado’s Governor and the Air Commission that they need to clamp down on the oil and gas industry and rein in their toxic pollution.
If Colorado has any chance of meaningfully confronting the climate crisis, it has to rein in fracking and oil and gas extraction.
Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Congress had the wisdom to designate Joshua Tree as a national park, one part of the California Desert Protection Act. The designation elevated these magical lands to one of the highest levels of protection possible for our nation’s public lands.
A quarter century ago I also joined the staff of WildEarth Guardians, and swore to protect, defend and restore the public lands that are central to the identity of the American West.
Anniversaries like these should be a time to celebrate the past; instead I’m worrying about the future. In the case of Joshua trees I worry because not even a national park designation is sufficient to protect them.
That’s because the climate crisis is warming our planet so fast that species, including Joshua trees, will not have the time to adapt. In fact, scientists from the UC-Riverside found that even under the best case scenario — meaning with aggressive action to reduce greenhouse emissions — only one in five Joshua trees will survive the next 50 years.
That’s a bleak scenario, one that WildEarth Guardians is doing everything in our power to prevent. It’s a Guardian’s duty to stand up to the government when the government isn’t doing its job. The Guardian’s charge is now ever more critical under an Administration that continue to disavow and deny the biodiversity and climate crises before us.
On Nov. 4, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit challenging a Trump administration decision to ignore the science when it denied Endangered Species Act safeguards for the Joshua tree.
When the very icons and namesakes that define our national parks can no longer survive, we have a problem that should alarm every citizen of our great nation. Sadly, that is the reality we’re facing not only with the Joshua tree, but also with the disappearing glaciers of Glacier National Park and the declining Saguaros of Saguaro National Park.
Instead or working to remedy these problems the Trump administration is only making them worse. Whether through issuing oil and gas leases to allow fracking on millions of acres of public lands, attacking public participation in decisions affecting our national forests or recently eviscerating the Endangered Species Act this administration is undoing environmental safeguards at an unprecedented pace.
While the blueprint for destruction is being clearly deployed there’s also a countervailing restorative blueprint for our lands, wildlife and our democracy that invokes the power of the public voice. That blueprint keeps me hopeful during these dark times.
After all, there’s a long history of inspired citizens and a caring government protecting species and lands, including the Joshua tree. Marshaling science and engaging in legal action will no doubt extend the Joshua tree a lifeline, but these acts alone can’t save it.
The Joshua tree was named for its distinct, ascending branches that reminded early Mormon settlers of the Biblical figure Joshua, reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. My prayer today is that the Joshua trees’ millions of fans — its famous musicians, poets, writers, and mystics among them — will speak out and refuse to allow the loss of such a beloved and irreplaceable figure of the natural world.
If they do so we can not only save the Joshua tree as an American treasure, but we can also reclaim and restore our democracy.
Fracking is decimating clean air in Colorado, putting health, safety, and communities at risk.
That’s why WildEarth Guardians and several other partners are stepping up to ensure the state adopts strong new rules to rein in the oil and gas industry’s pollution and start putting people first.
In a Prehearing Statement filed last week, we spearheaded efforts to defend Colorado’s clean air, climate, and health from fracking.
Together with Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front, the Lookout Alliance, Fort Collins Sustainability Group, and the Larimer Alliance for Health, Environment and Safety–collectively the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition–we called on the Air Quality Control Commission to adopt new rules that:
- Eliminate oil and gas industry loopholes
- Ratchet down aggressively on oil and gas industry emissions statewide
- Ensure comprehensive emission inventories of industry’s toxic pollution
- Make sure industry controls its air pollution as early as possible
- And most importantly, prohibit flaring
On the last point, our goal is put an end to the dirty and wasteful practice of flaring at oil and gas well sites. If a company has to flare, they shouldn’t be allowed to drill, frack or produce. Period.
We’ve already called on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to stop letting the fracking industry burn its gas. Now we need state air regulators to step up.
Our Prehearing Statement was filed as part of a rulemaking proceeding before the Air Quality Control Commission. The proceeding will culminate with a three day hearing in mid-December in Denver where we intend to provide testimony and urge the Commission to clamp down on the oil and gas industry.
This rulemaking was spurred by the passage of Colorado Senate Bill 19-181, which directed the Air Commission to take further steps to rein in the oil and gas industry’s air pollution.
Our Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition is engaging for one reason: to compel Colorado air regulators to start saying “no” to the oil and gas industry.
As we’ve said previously, “if Colorado’s Governor is serious about reining in unhealthy air pollution, we have no choice but to set real limits on fracking and oil and gas production in the state. In the face of ramped up drilling, better emission controls simply won’t cut it.”
– Colorado Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition
Stay tuned for more as this rulemaking process unfolds and get involved as opportunities arise! There will be public hearings throughout the state in December, including on the Western Slope in the towns of Rifle and Durango, and one along the Front Range in Loveland.
Oil and gas spills continue to be the norm, not the exception in the State of Colorado.
This week we updated our series of maps documenting oil and gas industry spills in the state and highlighting the terrible toll the fracking industry continues to take on clean water, air, lands, and more.
Of note, in 2018, there were nearly 600 spills reported in 2018, a rate of nearly 12 per week.
Check out our story map series below and see for yourself how the oil and gas industry is endangering public health, safety, and the environment in Colorado on a daily basis. You can also click here to access a stand-alone version of the map series >>
The data, which is from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, paints a disturbing picture of the oil and gas industry’s impact to the state. Among other things, the data shows:
- Spills are happening across Colorado, in particular on the Western Slope and in the Denver Metro Area along the Front Range;
- Noble Energy, Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas, and PDC Energy, Inc. were the top three spillers in Colorado in 2018;
- The Colorado Front Range region, in particular Weld County, is the area most heavily impacted by oil and gas industry spills;
- Many spills are happening in close proximity to densely populated communities along Colorado’s Front Range; and
- Since 2015, 377 spills have impacted ground and surface water in Colorado.
Although legislation was passed earlier in 2019 mandating that public health, safety, and the environment come first when it comes to oil and gas regulation, it’s clear that Colorado still has a long way to go to put people over fracking.
And that’s why calls for a time-out on fracking are mounting in Colorado. In fact, the public is increasingly vocal about the need for restraint when it comes to fracking in Colorado.
With another study confirming #Colorado’s health threatened by oil and gas, it’s clear we need to put brakes on new #fracking. @GovofCO @jaredpolis, we need a #TimeOut on new drilling! #PausethePermits, #ProtectHealth, #COForCleanAir
— Laura LaVertu (@LauraLaVertu) November 1, 2019
The justification for a time-out on new fracking in Colorado is growing stronger by the day.
In the past month, we’ve seen new studies confirming health risks from fracking, ongoing health and environmental impacts from fracking along Colorado’s Front Range, more evidence that oil and gas pipelines remain a major threat to public safety in Colorado, and more confirmation that the oil gas industry is eroding away clean air in Colorado on a near-daily basis.
It’s crazy that Governor Polis, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and the Department of Public Health and Environment aren’t exercising more restraint when deciding whether to approve more fracking in the state.
Colorado’s health, safety, and environment continue to take a backseat to the oil and gas industry. We hope that changes soon.
Called a motion for summary judgment, our latest filing calls on a federal judge to order the U.S. Department of Transportation to immediately begin inspecting more than 120,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing public lands in the United States.
Most of these public lands are located in the American West.
By law, the Transportation Department must ensure pipelines on public lands are inspected at least once a year.
Unfortunately, the agency has no records of any inspections being conducted for any oil and gas pipeline on public lands. Worse, the Department has conceded it deliberately refuses to inspect whole categories of pipelines that are, unfortunately, widespread on public lands.
Last year, WildEarth Guardians sued the Transportation Department to compel them to follow through with their legal obligations. In a lawsuit filed in Montana, we detailed how the agency’s failure to inspect puts wildlife, clean air and water, climate, communities, and recreationists at risk in the American West.
When we filed this lawsuit, we put together an interactive story map series. Check it out below and learn more about our efforts to defend public lands from oil and gas pipelines:
In response to our lawsuit, the feds tried to have our case dismissed. In May, however, the federal judge rejected the Transportation Department’s attempts to throw us out of court.
Now, we’re briefing the heart of the case and calling on the judge to formally order the Department of Transportation to start inspecting pipelines and protecting our public lands.
Stay tuned for more. We still have a few months of briefing, but in 2020, we should be getting a ruling in our lawsuit.
With fracking taking a terrible toll on our public lands, we need to up the pressure on the oil and gas industry any way we can. By ensuring pipeline inspections, we force greater transparency and accountability to our health and environment.
With oil and gas extraction still taking a tremendous toll on Colorado’s health and Colorado, WildEarth Guardians joined several other partners last week to confront the fracking industry’s toxic emissions.
In a filing with the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission, the Clean Air, Climate, and Health Coalition requested party status in a new rulemaking process promising to take the first critical steps toward reining in the industry’s pollution.
The Coalition includes WildEarth Guardians, Colorado Rising, 350 Colorado, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Colorado, Mothers Out Front–Colorado, The Lookout Alliance, the Fort Collins Sustainability Group, and the Larimer Alliance for Health, Safety, and the Environment.
The filing ensures our coalition has a seat at the table as the Air Quality Control Commission decides whether and to what extent to adopt new rules limiting oil and gas companies’ air emissions. The Commission is set to make its decision in December as part of a three day rulemaking hearing.
Our message to the Air Quality Control Commission? Go bold or go home.
With ramped up fracking continuing to take a toll on Colorado’s clean air and public health, it’s clear the Commission needs to move as aggressively as possible to curtail the oil and gas industry’s emissions.
Air regulations have already said the current level of oil and gas industry air pollution is “not acceptable.”
And with Governor Jared Polis saying the interests of Coloradans “are best served by moving aggressively forward and without delay” to rein in unhealthy air pollution, there’s simply no excuse for not moving quickly and effectively.
The need for heightened safeguards was underscored last week with the release of the latest healthy study in Colorado confirming significant health risks from fracking.
That study, commissioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, found exposure to oil and gas emissions up to 2,000 feet away threaten peoples’ health. The study also confirmed that health risks are highest when companies are drilling and fracking.
Armed with this study, which is just the latest addition to a huge body of other scientific reports detailing the negative health risks and impacts associated with oil and gas extraction, our coalition plans to call on the Air Quality Control Commission to do the following:
- Eliminate the 90-day loophole, which allows the oil and gas industry to frack without legally required clean air permits.
- Prohibit flaring, which is not only dirty and wasteful, but also not allowed under the state’s oil and gas laws.
- Require all oil and gas storage tanks to have pollution controls.
- Ensure emission controls are used as early as possible, including during drilling and fracking.
- Don’t allow the permitting of oil and gas well sites within 2,000 feet of homes or other occupied buildings.
On the latter issue, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has already taken steps to more closely scrutinize fracking permits for well sites within 2,000 feet of homes. It simply makes sense for the Air Commission to similarly draw the line on allowing any toxic emissions within this same distance.
Ultimately, we need rules that compel Colorado air regulators to start saying “no” to the oil and gas industry.
Indeed, if Colorado’s Governor is serious about reining in unhealthy air pollution, we have no choice but to set real limits on fracking and oil and gas production in the state. In the face of ramped up drilling, better emission controls simply won’t cut it.
The bottomline is, there’s too much pollution in Colorado and the only solution is to rein in the industry’s footprint. Put another way, we have to start keeping oil and gas in the ground.
That’s not just good for Colorado’s clean air, that’s good for the climate and good for the health of Coloradans.
Stay tuned for more as this rulemaking process unfolds and get involved as opportunities arise! There will be public hearings throughout the state in December, including on the Western Slope in the towns of Rifle and Durango, and one along the Front Range in Loveland.
In the meantime, our Coalition is going to do everything we can to hold the oil and gas industry accountable to our clean air, climate, and health.
Yet rather than ramp down fossil fuel production and rein in greenhouse gas emissions fueling the climate crisis, New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is instead looking to dump toxic oil and gas industry wastewater into streams, drinking waters, and on crops.
Claiming it would be “good for New Mexico,” the Governor’s new policy push is an extremely dangerous approach to regulating the fossil fuel industry and stands to leave New Mexico’s diminishing water supplies poisoned and unusable.
Worse, it only stands to compound the very climate crisis threatening New Mexico’s water in the first place.
With the Governor recently proclaiming that her environmental regulators work for industry, New Mexicans should be very worried.
A Frackwater Disaster
Driven by the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas extraction is surging in New Mexico. The production of oil and gas leads to the creation of massive amounts of wastewater. Not only do companies produce wastewater in hydraulic fracturing, but they extract water from the deep geologic formations they’re tapping for oil and gas.
In southeast New Mexico, the amount of water used for fracking increased by more than 700% between 2011 and 2016. Recent estimates indicate the amount of fracking wastewater produced in the region will double in the coming years.
This water (often called “produced water”) is too toxic to treat. It contains contaminants that can’t be removed, including radioactive materials, heavy metals, and extreme salts. Environmental regulations require industry to dispose of this wastewater deep underground to ensure it never reaches the surface. Even then, this disposal method has not been proven to be safe.
Rather than slow or even stop production, industry has convinced Michelle Lujan Grisham Administration to simply reclassify their frackwater as “not toxic.” The industry’s strategy is to re-label their waste so they can more cheaply dump it into rivers, onto crops, and into drinking water supplies.
In 2019, the New Mexico Legislature, at the urging of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, passed a law that allows (but does not mandate) that fracking wastewater to be regulated.
This law has set the stage for the dumping of the oil and gas industry’s toxic waste into New Mexico’s water supplies. The State is now moving to adopt rules that would “regulate” oil and gas industry wastewater.
The aim of these new regulations? To condone the dumping of toxic fracking wastewater into water supplies.
New Regulations Portend a Public Health Scam
New Mexico is now moving to adopt rules that officials claim will “regulate” the oil and gas industry’s fracking wastewater.
In a series of public meetings scheduled this month and next, the state intends to solicit public input on the issue of using fracking industry wastewater “outside the oil and gas industry.”
These public meetings and this process are nothing more than a front to justify dumping toxic oil and gas industry waste into New Mexico’s rivers and water supplies.
In fact, with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proclaiming this week that she has told her environmental regulators that they work for the oil and gas industry, it seems clear that new regulations are a scheme to justify rolling back public health safeguards.
Meetings are scheduled in October and November in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Farmington, and Las Cruces. It’s critical that the public show up and oppose any regulation of fracking industry wastewater.
The oil and gas industry’s toxic waste should not be regulated, it should be prohibited. For New Mexico’s health, environment, and safety, we can’t let fracking wastewater be dumped into streams, drinking water supplies or on crops.
The oil and gas industry in New Mexico is trashing the climate right now. The surge in fracking, especially in the Greater Carlsbad Region of southeast New Mexico, is fueling a massive increase in climate pollution.
With the climate crisis impacting New Mexico more than most other states, the last thing the state needs is more oil and gas extraction.
The fracking industry’s waste is too toxic to be treated. It needs to be banned, not condoned. We need to send the message to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham that prohibition, not regulation, is key to safeguarding the climate in New Mexico.