WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate

Press Releases

Climate Advocates Call for Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground at New Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale

September 1, 2016
Rebecca Sobel, (267) 402-0724, rsobel@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
#GreaterChaco, #KeepItInTheGround
Roswell, NM – New Mexicans came from across the state to rally with signs outside of the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease sale today, urging President Obama to defend the climate and American public lands, and to “Keep It in the Ground.”

Facing growing climate protests, the Bureau of Land Management had abruptly relocated its July 20 oil and gas lease sale from Santa Fe to Roswell, N.M., then, facing public backlash, postponed the sale from July 20 to today.

“Across the country, people are demanding protection of our land, water, and climate by keeping fossil fuels in the ground,” said Rebecca Sobel, Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for the Obama Administration to start putting the American public ahead of the demands of the oil and gas industry. That starts by putting an end to new public lands oil and gas leasing.”

Advocates rallied outside the Roswell Civic Center to reinforce calls on the Obama Administration to expand its climate leadership and end new oil and gas leasing. Today’s sale will allow industry to bid on oil and gas leases and secure the right to drill and frack on nearly 14,000 acres of Southeastern New Mexico.

“Leasing of public lands for drilling and fracking is completely counter to the Obama Administration’s claims of a sustainable future,” said Eleanor Bravo Southwest Director for Food & Water Watch. “Not only will we irrevocably pollute our air and water, we will have squandered our most precious National Parks and Monuments and all for corporate gain. Instead, we should be making efforts to transition to renewables as other developed countries have done successfully. These 10 year leases and the fossil fuels extracted only serve to line the pockets of the already wealthy oil and gas industry.”

Last week, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a landmark federal lawsuit challenging the Obama Administration’s leasing of 379,950 acres of public lands for failing to account for greenhouse gas emissions or estimate climate impacts from public lands oil and gas leasing, despite being legally required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Just two weeks ago, a NASA-led team determined that the methane ‘hot spot’ in northwest New Mexico comes from natural gas production and transport,” said Linda Starr, co-leader of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness chapter in Albuquerque. “The climate impacts of the oil and gas industry in our state are already enormous, and now is not the time for new leasing on our public lands. Fix the problems we have first, for our climate, for our communities, and for wildlife!”

Reports indicate oil and gas produced from public lands and waters is already responsible for 10 percent of all climate pollution in the U.S. A report released this year by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth also found that if unleased federal oil and gas reserves are sold to industry and developed, up to 89 billion metric tons of carbon stands to be unleashed. That would be the equivalent pollution of driving 1.8 billion cars for a decade.

Since taking office, the Obama Administration has leased more than 10 million acres of American public lands to the oil and gas industry, often for as little as $1.50 per acre. In spite of this extensive leasing, only 40 percent of all leases in the U.S. are actually producing oil and gas.

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease steps us toward more droughts, floods, fires and climate calamity,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Climate leadership in 2016 means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and the natural place for President Obama to start is on our public lands.”

WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity submitted formal appeals (also called “protests”) challenging this lease sale, but environmental concerns go unaddressed. The protests focus on the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to analyze potential impacts of fracking on imperiled wildlife, water quality, air quality, and climate pollution. Fracking threatens earthquakes near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground nuclear waste disposal site near Carlsbad, and could contribute to collapse of a sinkhole caused by past drilling located directly under the city. The Bureau’s failure to analyze those impacts is also raised in the protest.

Kelsey Martin of Food & Water Watch was present at the protest. She commented, “It was so important that our voice was heard today at the lease/sale of public lands. We made the nearly 70 bidders uncomfortably aware of the scope and gravity of offering up public lands for further extraction of fossil fuels.”

The rally is part of a mounting national movement calling on President Obama to halt new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters – a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution, equivalent to the pollution of 118,000 power plants-safely in the ground. Since November 2015, nine BLM oil and gas lease sales have been cancelled or postponed in the face of protests. Tomorrow is the comment deadline on the Environmental Assessment for the next BLM oil and gas lease sale on January 18, 2017 containing parcels in the Greater Chaco area in close proximity to the July 11 WPX fracking site explosion.


The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. A 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.),Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildearth_guardians/albums/72157672255638481

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama.

Download Grounded: The Presidents Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned FossilFuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels).

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets

Download Public Lands, Private Profits, a report about the corporations that are profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download WildEarth Guardians’ formal petition calling on the Department of theInterior to analyze the climate impacts of the federal oil and gas leasing program and to place a moratorium on new leasing until that study is completed.

Other Contact
Eleanor Bravo, Food & Water Watch, (505) 730-8474, Ebravo@fwwatch.org, Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 310-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org