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Guardians Moves to Defend Clean Air and Climate, Halt Massive Wyoming Fracking Plans
“The Trump Administration is liquidating our public lands to the fossil fuel industry and its coming at the expense of our health, western lands, and climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “This is about protecting the legacy of our American public lands, safeguarding clean air, and preserving our clean energy future.”
In a petition filed with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals, WildEarth Guardians challenged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the Normally Pressured Lance Natural Gas Development Project for failing to comply with the Clean Air Act. The petition also calls on the Board to preliminarily block, or stay, development of the Project.
The project calls for drilling and fracking 3,500 new oil and gas wells over 10 years across 220 square miles of public lands in the Upper Green River region of western Wyoming. The remote area is a vast expanse of sagebrush steppe and vital habitat for western wildlife, including sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn. Currently, only a little over a hundred wells have been drilled in the project area.
The Upper Green River region has struggled with dangerous levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, which is the key ingredient of smog and normally a problem only in urban areas. Since 2005, the region has violated federal health limits on ozone and in 2012, it was declared a “nonattainment” area, a designation normally reserved for polluted cities.
The region’s smog problem stems from a surge in oil and gas development that began in the early 2000’s. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management has authorized more than 10,000 new oil and gas wells. The development and production of these wells is the single largest source of ozone forming pollution in the region, releasing more than 90% of all emissions.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, the Normally Pressured Lance Project would only add to the region’s air pollution woes. The agency estimated that drilling and fracking of the additional 3,500 wells would release hundreds of tons of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, both key ozone forming pollutants, every year.
“This new drilling and fracking stands to decimate our public lands and smother western Wyoming with more smog,” said Nichols. “This is the epitome of irresponsible, unbalanced, and misguided fossil fuel development. The American West deserves better.”
The company behind the project, Jonah Energy, has indicated it intends to begin drilling at any moment.
In its petition, WildEarth Guardians called on the Board of Land Appeals to block Jonah Energy’s plans, citing the failure of the Bureau of Land Management to limit air pollution to legally acceptable levels. Under the Clean Air Act, federal agencies cannot take actions that worsen air pollution problems in nonattainment areas.
“The bottomline is, illegal air pollution is not acceptable,” said Becca Fischer, Climate Guardian and Attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re calling for a stay to protect clean air and the health of a region that should not be suffering through a smog crisis.”
The Board has 45 days to respond to the petition.