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.
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.
WildEarth Guardians is in court today defending the Greater Chaco region of northwest New Mexico from fracking!
Before a federal appeals court, we intend to make the case that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally allowed the oil and gas industry to drill and despoil this sacred landscape, putting our climate, clean air, and Navajo communities at risk.
Stay tuned to WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Twitter account @ClimateWest for updates and developments!
Together with the Western Environmental Law Center, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, in 2015 we filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of hundreds of drilling permits in the Greater Chaco region.
Sadly, last year our lawsuit was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge in New Mexico. Undeterred, we’ve continued to press for justice.
Today, we’re literally getting our day in court. At a hearing in Salt Lake City, Utah, we’ll be arguing before a panel of three federal appeals judges. Their hearings start at 9 AM mountain time. We’ll likely be arguing between 11 and noon.
WildEarth Guardians’ Managing Attorney, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, will be presenting to the court. Alongside her will be the Western Environmental Law Center’s Energy and Communities Director and Staff Attorney, Kyle Tisdel.
The hearing won’t be streamed online, but we’ll try to provide updates via social media as we can. Stay tuned to @ClimateWest and future updates here on our Brave New Wild blog!
Coal companies and their cronies in the Trump Administration are going to every length to get their hands on our public lands and publicly owned coal here in the American West.
Located near the town of Durango, Colorado, the King II mine isn’t the biggest or the worst coal mine, but it’s a poster child for how the federal government caters to coal at the expense of our public lands, climate, and clean air and water.
Under this new proposal, the Bureau of Land Management would sell nearly 2,500 acres of publicly owned coal to GCC Energy, the owner of the King II mine.
The sale would allow the company to expand the mine further west, getting to within 10 miles of Mesa Verde National Park. The new coal would extend the life of the mine by more than 20 years.
Although an underground mine, King II still requires extensive surface development, including haul roads, load out facilities, and ventilation shafts. Coal from the mine is also trucked away, meaning its operations have tremendous on-the-ground impacts locally and regionally.
And of course, the coal is ultimately burned, unleashing carbon emissions and other toxic air pollution. In this case, GCC burns coal from King II in cement kilns, itself a carbon-intensive process and major concern for the climate.
Already, estimates indicate the King II mine is responsible for nearly 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. That equal the amount of carbon pollution from more than one million cars (according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator).
That means under the latest 20 year expansion plan, more than 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution stands to be unleashed.
For years, GCC has gotten off the hook in terms of taking full responsibility for the environmental and health costs of its King II mine. Local residents have endured unchecked truck traffic, water contamination, and air pollution. And federal mine regulators have turned their back on any meaningful oversight, writing off the impacts of the mine as “insignificant.”
In 2017, we appealed a prior expansion of the mine, challenging the failure of the Office of Surface Mining to hold GCC accountable to environmental scrutiny related to a massive production increase. While that appeal is still pending, it underscores that the federal government has done nothing but cater to this coal company.
Sadly, the lack of oversight and accountability continues.
Under the latest coal sale proposal, the Bureau of Land Management and Office of Surface Mining have already declared they believe the impacts of expanding the King II mine would be “insignificant.”
The agencies indicated they have no intention of preparing an environmental impact statement to fully account for the mine’s environmental impacts, which is required whenever federal actions pose significant environmental consequences.
Instead, they intend to “streamline” the environmental review, meaning their aim is to fast-track approval by cutting corners on process and analysis.
And already, the agencies are shutting the door on the public. While people have been invited to submit comments, the agencies have given people only 30 days to fully scrutinize GCC’s plans and offer informed feedback.
For similar coal proposals, the Bureau of Land Management normally gives the public 60 or more days to submit comments.
Given this, we requested an extension of the comment period this week. Unfortunately, the agencies quickly denied our request, another indication that this “streamlined” process is meant to thwart public involvement, not accommodate it.
Despite this resistance to public involvement, we will be pushing back and pushing back hard.
Because we simply can’t afford to let our federal government so brazenly cater to the coal industry. What’s happening at the King II mine is emblematic of broader collusion between regulators and companies under the Trump Administration. The mine may not be the biggest or worst, but it’s where we need to take a stand to defend the public interest.
And of course we simply can’t afford to keep mining coal given the state of our climate crisis. Last fall, federal climate scientists said very clearly that “immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions” are needed to “avoid the most severe consequences” of climate change.
While the politics of Trump may be leading officials with the Bureau of Land Management and Office of Surface Mining to deny climate change, the politics don’t change facts.
The reality is, for our climate, we have to keep our coal in the ground.
At the King II coal mine, this reality is imperative. Given the potential consequences to the region’s clean air and water, to nearby Mesa Verde National Park, and to local residents, we can’t afford to let this latest mine expansion move forward even an inch.
WildEarth Guardians is in the courtroom tomorrow to defend our public lands from dangerous oil and gas pipelines.
By law, pipelines on American public lands are supposed to be inspected at least once a year. These inspections are supposed to be undertaken by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is responsible for assuring pipeline safety in the U.S.
Unfortunately, our investigations not only revealed that inspections aren’t happening, but that the Transportation Department isn’t even aware of its legal duty to assure inspections on public lands.
What happens when pipelines aren’t inspected? Disaster.
And this week, we learned that pipelines on public lands are especially dangerous given that they’re often classified as “rural gathering lines” and virtually unregulated and uninspected.
The reporters found that for gathering lines, “there are no rules.”
Unlike long-haul transmission lines, which are closely regulated by the federal government, or utility pipelines usually monitored by states, rural gathering lines fall in a gray area. They don’t have to be marked, built to standards or regularly inspected. Unlike for transmission lines, operators don’t have to have emergency response plans for when they leak or explode.
– Mike Lee and Mike Soraghan for E&E News
Across the western U.S., where most American public lands are located, we’ve tallied up report after report of spills, leaks, explosions, and more associated with oil and gas pipelines. Most all of these pipelines are tied to regions of intense oil and gas development.
All told, an estimated 120,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines on our public lands appear to be completely overlooked by federal safety regulators.
In August, we filed suit in federal court in Montana to finally compel the Transportation Department to do its job.
In response, the Trump Administration moved to dismiss our case, actually arguing that they don’t have a mandatory duty to inspect pipelines on public lands. We fired back, highlighting not only that they have a mandatory duty, but that their failure to inspect poses imminent threats to America’s public lands.
WildEarth Guardians’ attorneys, including Sarah McMillan, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, and Becca Fischer, will be there in person representing American public lands.
Braving record cold in Great Falls, they’ll be pushing back against the Trump Administration’s attempt to turn its back on our health, safety, and environment.
Excited to be in Great Falls, #Montana for our legal hearing on the federal government’s failure to inspect all #oilandgas pipelines on public lands. The weather may be cold but we’re ready to turn up the heat to protect the West from dirty fossil fuels. pic.twitter.com/kH9DiSkUNh
— Rebecca Fischer (@RebeccaJFischer) March 5, 2019
The judge could issue a ruling and decide whether the case can move forward. More likely the court will offer some key signals on its view of the issues and where the case may be headed.
Regardless, things are sure to heat up in the courtroom on the issue of oil and gas pipelines on public lands.
Our aim is to overturn the sale of our public lands to the oil and gas industry, defend our climate and protect the region’s clean water.
In 2017 and 2018, the agency auctioned off lands in a number of iconic corners of Montana, including the Tongue River Valley, along the Beartooth Mountain Front, and next to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
In doing so, the agency turned its back on the environmental consequences of fracking Montana’s public lands, claiming the impacts would “not be significant.”
Our lawsuit takes aim at this ludicrous finding and our latest motion sets forth how it not only defies facts, but also defies the law.
Despite the climate crisis, in a recent push to open up more federal lands to oil and gas drilling, BLM has sold, and is proposing to sell, millions of acres of oil and gas leases in the western United States. This case challenges two of these sales in Montana, the December 2017 lease sale and the March 2018 lease sale, which are addressed by four [Environmental Assessments] EAs.
– Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment
Although focused on Montana, our lawsuit holds enormous potential for thwarting the Trump Administration’s efforts to sell public lands for fracking across the American West.
Right now, millions of acres in the western U.S. are being put on the oil and gas auction block. We’re fighting back, but we need the courts to start holding the Administration accountable.
Our case is still unfolding, but hopefully by the end of this year, we’ll get a ruling and with it, some accountability. Stay tuned for more!
WildEarth Guardians has embarked upon a new campaign leveraging the federal Clean Air Act to protect the Denver Metro Area and Colorado’s Front Range from unchecked and out of control fracking.
For too long, state and federal regulators have allowed the oil and gas industry to run roughshod over people and communities from Denver to Fort Collins and everywhere in between. The result? A dangerous smog problem, toxic emissions, oil and gas wells next to homes and playgrounds, and fracking that is going virtually unmonitored.
The Governor of Colorado and the State Legislature thankfully are moving to confront some of these issues, but a full solution to the oil and gas problem plaguing the Front Range requires more aggressive advocacy and legal action.
Given this, we’re putting into action our Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative.
Similar to the way state and federal regulators undertake enforcement initiatives (like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s coal-fired power plant enforcement initiative), WildEarth Guardians is making it a priority to confront the impacts of fracking to clean air along the Front Range.
We’re doing this in four critical ways:
1. Confronting Federal Fracking Approvals
First, we’re confronting federal fracking approvals throughout the Front Range region.
It surprises people to know that in this region, there are extensive deposits of publicly owned oil and gas managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The agency regularly sells the rights for company’s to develop these deposits and rubberstamps drilling and fracking permits.
We’ve been pushing back against these fracking approvals, challenging the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to meet federal Clean Air Act requirements limiting federal approvals that would worsen air quality.
Most recently, we launched a legal challenge to 38 new wells that would frack under the town of Brighton just north of Denver. We’re also in the midst of challenging another 58 wells that were approved east of the town of Greeley, about 60 miles north of Denver.
Our aim is to leverage federal environmental laws to put the brakes on federal fracking.
2. Forcing EPA Sanctions
The Denver Metro area has long suffered from high levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. The region has been declared a “nonattainment area,” which means the region is violating health limits on ground-level ozone.
It surprises people to know that oil and gas operations are a key source of smog-forming emissions in the region.
Sadly, in spite of the region’s troubles with smog, state air regulators with the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division have refused to fully confront the problem and ozone levels remain dangerously high.
In part, it’s because of the Air Pollution Control Division’s reluctance to clamp down on the oil and gas industry. Instead of curtailing pollution, in 2017 the state initiated a seemingly endless “stakeholder” process and doesn’t even intend to propose any further emission cuts until 2020.
Fortunately, under the Clean Air Act, the state can’t avoid its duty to clean up the Front Range’s smog. By law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is required to impose sanctions on Colorado if it fails to meet clean up deadlines.
Sanctions include ratcheting down pollution limits and emplacing more stringent permitting requirements on the oil and gas industry.
We know the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t the best agency to rely on these days, so in January, we put the agency on notice of our intent to sue them under the Clean Air Act for not sanctioning Colorado’s failure to clean up its smog.
This month, we plan to launch that lawsuit and ensure Colorado air regulators are held accountable to its failure to clean up smog along the Front Range.
3. Securing Clean Air Justice
A cornerstone of our initiative is directly holding oil and gas companies accountable to the Clean Air Act. Last week, we took the first step of putting this accountability into action.
After an extensive investigation, we found the oil and gas industry is chronically failing to obtain legally required air pollution permits before fracking its wells along the Front Range.
At issue is that companies are drilling and putting wells into production before meeting rigorous permitting requirements for new sources of air pollution.
In nonattainment areas, like the Denver Metro area, sources have to achieve extremely stringent emission limits, as well as offset emissions.
This means that as companies develop new fracking sites, they should be reducing overall emissions. They’re not, and that’s illegal.
What we’ve found is that companies are developing new fracking sites that have the potential to release thousands of tons of toxic ozone-forming air pollution, yet are not obtaining permits for months, if not years, afterward.
What’s more, they’re not offsetting emissions. Where we should be seeing net decreases in smog-forming pollution, we’re seeing increases.
To say this is illegal would be an understatement. The oil and gas industry is knowingly violating our clean air laws so that it can frack and put wells in to production as quickly as possible. However, the industry’s bottomline doesn’t trump our clean air.
Last week we put seven of the worst offenders on notice that we intend to sue them in federal court and hold them accountable to the Clean Air Act. The companies include Bonanza Creek Energy, Crestone Peak, Extraction Oil and Gas, Great Western, Mallard Exploration, Noble Energy, and PDC Energy.
The facilities are all located in Weld County, Colorado, but impact clean air throughout the Front Range region. In total, the companies collectively face more than $1.3 billion in potential penalties.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re currently developing Clean Air Act enforcement lawsuits targeting other companies and dozens of other facilities.
Our aim is to ensure the oil and gas industry pays for its crimes. More importantly, our aim is to ensure companies aren’t allowed to frack unless they’ve complied with the most stringent Clean Air Act permitting requirements and actually reduced their toxic air pollution.
4. Confronting Illegal Air Permits
Finally, we’re pushing back against the State of Colorado over their illegal permitting of fracking facilities under the Clean Air Act.
Unfortunately, the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division has been a willing accomplice in the oil and gas industry’s scheme to avoid stringent permitting. Rather than hold companies accountable to the law, the Division is actively issuing permits that let companies skirt strict permitting requirements and increase their emissions.
The thing is, under the Clean air Act, the Air Pollution Control Division legally can’t do this.
We’re fighting back on this front, challenging illegal permit approvals to ensure industry is complying with the most stringent clean air safeguards.
At the end of February, we also brought this issue to the attention of the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission. You can listen to our testimony below.
We’re gearing up to push back on more permits. And if the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division continues to issue illegal permits under the Clean Air Act, we will take them to court.
We can’t afford to lose our clean air to fracking. In Colorado, we hope to turn the tide for our health and start to hold the oil and gas industry accountable to the law.
With our latest Colorado Front Range Oil and Gas Clean Air Enforcement Initiative, we hope to systematically push back against oil and gas companies and make the case for keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
For the Denver Metro area, that means cleaner air and healthier communities.
And for our planet, that means a shot at a safe climate.
As the New Mexico Legislature weighs a bill that to impose a four-year moratorium on fracking in the state, we thought it would be useful to take a look at just how dangerous and destructive fracking is in the Land of Enchantment.
To this end, we mapped out spills, gas releases, fires, blowouts, and other incidents reported by the oil and gas industry in 2018 to state regulators. As you might imagine, the data is horrendous.
It shows that in 2018, 1,514 incidents were reported by the oil and gas industry. Check out the map below or click here to view the full version.
That amounts to over four spills, fires, blowouts and per day in 2018.
It’s an astonishing amount of disaster unfolding in New Mexico’s oil and gas producing regions, which include the Greater Chaco region in the northwest and the Greater Carlsbad Caverns region in the southeast.
And it solidly underscores the need for a moratorium on fracking in New Mexico. With the oil and gas industry seemingly incapable of preventing spills and other incidents, it’s high time to put the brakes on this ongoing catastrophe.
Hopefully the New Mexico Legislature will follow through with a fracking moratorium this year.
If you haven’t yet, lend your support for the bill and help convince legislators to protect New Mexico from fracking. Tell them we need a pause on fracking!
The air, water, land, and communities of New Mexico can’t afford to be constantly suffering at the hands of the oil and gas industry. It’s time for a #PauseonFracking.
This week, WildEarth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity pushed back against Peabody’s plans to expand its massive Caballo coal mine in the Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming.
The Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana is the largest coal producing region in the U.S. It’s a root contributor to global warming and for many years now, we’ve been fighting hard to keep coal in the ground here.
Peabody’s latest plan calls for mining nearly 120 million more tons of coal and operating the Caballo mine until the 2050’s. If approved, nearly 200 million metric tons of carbon would be unleashed as this coal is burned.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, that equals the amount of carbon released every year by more than 42 million cars.
Incredibly, the proposal comes even as demand for Powder River Basin coal continues to decline.
And recent reports indicate Powder River Basin coal production continues to reach new lows.
That’s why in our comments, we called on the Office of Surface Mining to reject Peabody’s demands and instead focus on helping communities transition to more sustainable and prosperous economies.
Federal agencies as well as policymakers need to focus on accelerating the phase out of coal by 2030 or sooner…
– Comments on Caballo coal mine expansion
Unfortunately, the Trump Administration seems bent on bailing out coal companies, not on helping communities.
Our goal is to achieve both.
This week, we took aim at the Trump Administration’s plans to sacrifice our public lands for fracking in Colorado and Wyoming.
In administrative appeals, we targeted the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s plans to sell more than 760,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming to the oil and gas industry. We also confronted the Bureau’s approval of 38 new oil and gas wells in Colorado’s Denver Metro area.
It’s hard to compare the heavily populated Denver Metro Area with remote Wyoming, but surprisingly, the two region’s share a lot in common when it comes to oil and gas.
For one, there are extensive amounts of publicly owned and federally managed minerals in both areas. This means the U.S. Bureau of Land Management plays a major role in deciding whether or not to approve any fracking.
Ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog, is normally a big city problem. However, in the American West, it’s actually an oil and gas problem.
And, unfortunately, in both Wyoming and the Denver Metro area, the Bureau of Land Management is turning its back on its duty to safeguard clean air and public health from unchecked fracking.
Our appeals take aim at the agency’s failure to protect clean air. They also target the failure of the Bureau to account for the climate consequences of authorizing more fracking and more fossil fuel production.
Ultimately, our aim is to keep our oil and gas in the ground.
Because we can’t possibly frack our way to a safe climate. No amount of Trump politics can change the reality that we can ill-afford more oil and gas production from our public lands.
In Colorado, Wyoming, and throughout the American West, we’re stepping up to confront federal fracking approvals. For our clean air, climate, and our public lands, we have to keep it in the ground.
Despite Denver’s worsening summertime smog problem, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to let the State of Colorado avoid cleaning up this pollution mess and turn its back on public health.
So, this week, we put the EPA on notice: either force Colorado to clean up its act or get sued.
This isn’t a trivial matter. Peoples’ health is literally on the line.
Ground-level ozone pollution levels in the Denver Metro and North Front Range region of Colorado routinely exceed federal health limits. Ozone is a poisonous gas and is the key ingredient of smog and in Colorado. It forms when pollution from smokestacks, tailpipes, and oil and gas operations react with sunlight.
In the Denver area, oil and gas development is actually the largest source of smog forming pollution.
Put another way, that summertime smog in Denver? It’s all fracking.
Colorado health regulators were supposed to clean up the region’s smog pollution by July 20, 2018. They failed. In fact, they’ve tried to seek more delay in cleaning up the region’s ozone.
In response, the EPA was supposed to impose more stringent pollution cuts. Unfortunately, they also failed.
So, at both the state and federal level, the health of Colorado’s Front Range is being sacrificed for the oil and gas industry. Fortunately, we can change this.
With our latest notice letter, we’re setting the stage for a lawsuit against the EPA. Under the Clean Air Act, citizen groups, like WildEarth Guardians, can sue to enforce the law. However, we first have to provide notice of our intent to sue, then wait 60 days.
Our hope is that we can file suit in federal court by March and hopefully get clean air back on track before the summer of 2019.
Because the oil and gas industry isn’t just destroying our climate, they’re ruing our clean air. If we can’t clean up Denver’s smog, we have no chance of safeguarding our climate.