18,000 Acres of Public Lands in Colorado Protected from Fracking for Now
Denver – WildEarth Guardians applauded the Trump Administration’s deferral of its plan to auction off 18,000 acres federal public lands for oil and gas drilling and fracking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, less than a mile from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
The Bureau of Land Management postponed selling leases near the park as part of its September oil and gas lease sale in order to “complete Tribal consultation with the Navajo Nation.” The Navajo Nation purchased ancestral land just north of the proposed leases in December 2017 and regards adjacent mountains - Tsisnaasjini, or White Shell Mountain (Blanca Peak) and Big Sheep Obsidian Mountain (Mount Hesperus) - as sacred land and traditional cultural property. According to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, one of the of the proposed parcels is directly underneath the Tribe’s land.
“The Trump Administration’s push to frack our public lands without any forethought is clearly backfiring,” said Becca Fischer, a Climate Guardian with WildEarth Guardians. “The federal government is rushing cultural and environmental analyses in order to steamroll oil and gas. It’s no surprise these huge oversights are met with backlash and necessary backpedalling.”
Although the deferral is welcome news, the decision ignores the environmental impacts that would result from the sale. In April, WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Sierra Club, and Wild Connections, submitted extensive comments criticizing Bureau of Land Management’s incomplete analysis on the potential harms to Colorado’s clean air, water, night skies, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities from drilling and fracking.
The Colorado Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale, scheduled for the week of Sept. 3, will still include 20 parcels totaling more than 8,000 acres.
“While we think that the Bureau of Land Management did the right thing based on public pressure, we won’t back down until these areas get permanent environmental protections and public health and culture are preserved,” Fischer said. “There’s really no reason to be running roughshod in a rush to frack right next to our national parks and sacred spaces.”
In March, in response to intense public pressure from conservation groups and Tribes, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke removed public lands in New Mexico near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park and in Montana near Yellowstone National Park from the auction block. The move came because of concerns about impacts to cultural and environmental resources.
Despite these deferrals, the pace of federal public lands approved for oil and gas leasing by the BLM continues to drastically increase in 2018, on pace to triple the amount of acreage sold last year. In 2017, the BLM auctioned off more than one million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states. To date, the BLM’s proposed lease sales for 2018 in those same states total almost 2.5 million acres.