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Pawnee National Grassland to be Spared from Fracking

September 4, 2014
Jeremy Nichols (303) 437-7663
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Greeley, CO—WildEarth Guardians is cautiously hailing the prospect that the U.S. Forest Service will keep fracking off the Pawnee National Grassland of northeastern Colorado, but a new plan proposed yesterday would still allow more than 350 oil and gas wells to be drilled on neighboring areas,putting the climate and the integrity of these public grasslands at risk.

“The Pawnee National Grassland is a vital refuge for wildlife, for those who love outdoor recreation along Colorado’s Front Range,and for clean air and water; fracking has no place in this iconic prairie landscape,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “We support the Forest Service’s proposal to keep fracking off the Pawnee, but by still allowing publicly owned minerals to be accessed, the region is still at risk.”

The Pawnee National Grassland is located north of Denver and consists of 300 square miles of publicly owned grasslands that are popular for camping, bird watching, and hiking. The Grasslands contain the Pawnee Buttes, one of the most iconic uplifts of northeastern Colorado. The lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

To view pictures of the Pawnee National Grassland from the air, including pictures of encroaching oil and gas fracking, click here >>

Under the Forest Service’s preferred alternative for the Pawnee National Grassland, surface disturbance associated with oil and gas development would be prohibited over 100,000 acres. Publicly owned minerals would still be accessed, however, and it’s estimated that 354 wells will be drilled and fracked as a result.

According to a draft analysis by the Forest Service, these wells would continue to foul the region’s skies and spew out hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon pollution.

The agency estimates that annually, drilling and fracking will release more than 127,440 tons of carbon pollution and that more than6,000 tons of methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Ultimately, the amount of methane that stands to be threatened released every year will equal 521,000 tons of carbon, putting year total carbon emissions at more than 650,000 metric tons annually. This equals the annual carbon emissions of 136,000 passenger vehicles.

The area slated for fracking is also within the Denver Metro/North Front Range “non attainment” area, a nine-county area that is violating health limits on ozone, the key ingredient of smog. The Forest Service estimates that ozone-forming pollution will increase by nearly 3,000 tons annually in the area, worsening the region’s smog problem.

“Keeping fracking off our Pawnee National Grassland is critical, but we still stand to bear the brunt of unchecked fracking,” said Nichols. “For our climate and clean air,the Forest Service must make all publicly owned minerals underlying the Grassland off limits for drilling and fracking.”

Already, 43,000 acres of the Pawnee National Grassland has been leased for fracking, and 62 wells have been developed. In the late 1990’s, the Forest Service estimated that only 10 wells would be drilled on the Grassland over a 20 year period, but with the boom in shale gas and oil drilling using horizontal fracking techniques, the Pawnee has increasingly been in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry.

WildEarth Guardians intends to call on the Forest Service to make publicly owned minerals underlying the Pawnee National Grassland off limits to drilling and fracking in order to address the climate and clean air impacts of fracking.

To download a map of the Pawnee National Grassland showing existing oil and gas wells and leases, click here >>

Comments on the Forest Service’s proposal and its environmental analysis are due October 14, 2014. More information is available on the Forest Service’s website here >>