Despite Zinke's Promises, Montana Is In the Crosshairs for Oil and Gas Development
Denver – Today, WildEarth Guardians, along with Livingston-based Park County Environmental Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Montana Environmental Information Center, Northern Plains Resource Council, Protect the Beartooth Front, 350 Montana, and a number of Livingston-area landowners, pushed back against Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke’s plans to sacrifice 63,000 acres of federal public land near Livingston, Montana - the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park- and the Beartooth Front, near Red Lodge, Montana. The conservation groups filed an administrative appeal, also called a protest, against the U.S Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) proposal to auction off these lands at a March 13, 2018 oil and gas lease sale.
“Giving away our public lands to the oil and gas industry for fracking is a travesty generally, and now Zinke is giving away some of the most iconic places in Montana for next to nothing just to appease the oil and gas industry,” said Becca Fischer, Climate Guardian at WildEarth Guardians. “Many of these lease parcels will probably sell for $2 an acre. You can’t buy anything for $2 an acre these days.”
A number of local conservation groups and landowners also took issue with the location of the lease parcels. “The parcels up for auction as part of this lease sale border our community, the Yellowstone River, and are directly within the iconic viewshed of downtown Livingston,” said Michelle Uberuaga with Park County Environmental Council, a Livingston-based group. “Fracking these public lands would be devastating to both our community health and local economy.”
“It hardly seems worth risking Livingston’s economy, culture, and environmental safety in exchange for minuscule lease fees, a few transient jobs, and the likely small mineral returns on these properties,” said Elise Atchison, a local landowner in Livingston.
“As a landowner within the zone of highest development potential in Park County, I am outraged that the BLM has ‘envisioned’ several wells near our home,” said Erica Lighthiser with Montana Mountain Mamas. “We know families whose children have been poisoned by pollution associated with oil and gas wells and will fight hard to protect our home, our community, and these public lands.”
The pace of federal public lands giveaways to the oil and gas industry is set to drastically increase in 2018. In 2017, the BLM auctioned off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states. The BLM’s lease sales for the first half of 2018 in those same states already total almost 1 million acres. Zinke seems determined to do anything he can to give our public lands and resources to developers with little to no mitigation for the very real harms that come with development.
“This is a land grab, pure and simple. Zinke wants to give away Montana’s public lands for oil and gas development regardless of the impacts to communities, public resources, the environment or the climate,” said Derf Johnson, Water Program Director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “He’s proven time and time again that when it comes to public lands, he’s no Teddy Roosevelt, regardless of how he tries to sell himself to the media. He’s just anti-public lands.”
Oil and gas leasing on public lands is also a major contributor to global warming in the United States. Leasing opens the door for oil and gas drilling and fracking, and more fossil fuel burning. Reports indicate 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to oil and gas development from public lands and waters.
“The unrestrained development of fossil fuels will accelerate Montana's warming temperatures,” said Jeff Smith, co-chair of 350-Montana. “That means more uncontrolled fires, more communities evacuated, and more smoke-choked summers. It means rapidly accelerating damage to our two primary industries, agriculture and tourism. The name of the game right now is clearly reducing existing carbon emissions and moving to Montana's vast clean energy resources. It's absolutely insane to lease and dig up new oil and gas that we know will degrade our climate and our economy.”
The BLM will likely decide whether to grant or deny the administrative appeal just before the March 13 lease sale.