News | May 23, 2016

Legal Protest Challenges Fossil Fuels Auction On 13,800 Acres In New Mexico

Fracking Near Carlsbad Threatens Climate, Imperiled Species, Sinkhole Collapse, and Nuke Waste Disposal Site

Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest late Friday against a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off more than 13,800 acres (21 square miles) of publicly owned fossil fuels near Carlsbad in southeast New Mexico.

“Each new fossil fuel lease commits us to more climate disruption, habitat destruction, and polluted air and water,” said My-Linh Le of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change requires keeping untapped fossil fuel deposits in the ground. We should start on the public lands that President Obama controls.”

The protest, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club, calls on the BLM to halt this auction and all new federal fossil fuel leasing to preserve any chance of averting catastrophic climate disruption. It challenges the BLM’s refusal to undertake any environmental analysis for impacts relating to greenhouse gas emissions in its decision to auction the fossil fuels.

“We think it’s time for public lands to be part of the solutions to climate change, not part of the problem,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Not only has the BLM failed to analyze impacts of new oil and gas extraction on New Mexico’s water, wildlife and public safety, but new leasing commits us to dangerous climate impacts for decades to come.”

In addition to causing greenhouse gas pollution, the auction and subsequent drilling, fracking and wastewater injection could cause earthquakes near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground nuclear waste disposal site near Carlsbad, and could contribute to collapse of a sinkhole caused by past drilling located directly under the city. The Bureau’s failure to analyze those impacts is also raised in the protest.

“There is simply no room in the carbon budget for new leases of public oil and gas,” said Eleanor Bravo with Food & Water Watch. “Adding insult to injury, the new leasing could lead to failures with containment of radioactive wastes in New Mexico. The BLM must recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and the shortsightedness of new leasing. It’s time for BLM to stop promoting fracking on our public lands.” 

The protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to expand his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground.

“Keep It in the Ground” rallies, where thousands of people have opposed federal fossil fuel auctions, have been growing across the country — in Alaska, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Reno, Nev. — and have caused some auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

"Every new federal fossil fuel lease is a step in the wrong direction for people and the planet,” said Marissa Knodel with Friends of the Earth.

“The American people don't need another energy sacrifice zone or increases in toxic pollution and climate disruption that threaten their health and safety. What we need is to accelerate a just transition to a clean energy economy by stopping new leasing and keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

Download the protest here.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which make up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.” 

Source: Center for Biological Diversity