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Public Health, Air Quality, and Water at Risk
DENVER— The Trump administration wants to lease more than 90 square miles of public land for fracking along the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains without any environmental review, even though oil and gas development would worsen deadly ozone pollution in a region already struggling with smog. The Bureau of Land Management is scheduled to release notice of the June 7 auction on Friday.
”Every day brings another horrible proposal from Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to frack our public lands regardless of the impacts to public health and clean air,” said Becca Fischer, climate guardian with WildEarth Guardians. “The elderly, children and anyone who works or recreates outside should be very concerned about this latest lease sale.”
After new Trump fracking policies slashed environmental review, the Bureau is using a shortcut called a “determination of NEPA adequacy” to bypass analysis of fracking harms required under the National Environmental Policy Act. This cursory review presumes that leasing complies with broad resource-management plans and delays site-specific review until drilling permits are requested. But the BLM routinely bypasses that promised review at the drilling stage, claiming that it can’t block drilling once land has been leased to industry.
Ozone pollution in eastern Utah and northern Colorado already exceeds new federal limits, largely because of unchecked oil and gas development. More fracking would worsen pollution for those areas and the small communities that dot woodland-covered plateaus and valleys southeast of Dinosaur National Monument, near the headwaters of the White and Yampa rivers. But the BLM is refusing to use its own models and science to measure potential ozone pollution from this fracking plan.
Under a March court order, the Environmental Protection Agency has until April 30 to designate areas that violate federal ozone standards as “non-attainment areas.” According to the agency’s own estimates, meeting the standard will prevent hundreds of deaths, as well as 230,000 asthma attacks in children, each year.
“The Trump administration is playing a dangerous and illegal shell game in Colorado that threatens human lives,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “They want to pump more deadly ozone into the air and hide how much damage these fracking plans would do. The administration’s drilling and fracking agenda is a disaster for our public health and our public lands.”
“This is another example of the Bureau disregarding our environmental laws in its headlong rush to lease public lands for oil and gas development,” said Stu Gillespie, a staff attorney with Earthjustice. “The agency’s own models predict exceedances of federal air-quality standards for ozone. Yet the Bureau never considered this information, let alone whether it needed to stop the lease sale to protect public health and the environment.”
The new fracking plan also is expected to worsen water shortages. The BLM is refusing to analyze potential water use by fracking, even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently estimated that fracking wells in the region use up to about 25 million gallons of water per well. The Trump administration’s commitment of public land to water-intensive fracking comes as the region suffers increased drying and reduced river flows, driven in part by climate change.
The June auction will be hosted online by EnergyNet. The Interior Department moved public lands and offshore oil and gas auctions to the online forum in 2016 after climate protests disrupted, delayed or canceled auctions nationwide.
A map of public lands parcels to be auctioned can be downloaded here and is available for media use.