A coalition of groups yesterday appealed to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to suspend a proposal to sell public lands for fracking in light of the COVID-19 crisis and the economic collapse of the oil and gas industry.
In a formal administrative appeal (also called a “protest”), WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Chaco Alliance, Living-Rivers-Colorado Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, Southwest Native Cultures, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Western Environmental Law Center challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to sell more than 45,000 acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry in May 2020. The 10-day protest period began March 23, and ended April 1.
The organizations challenged the agency’s legal basis for selling public lands for oil and gas extraction, as well as called on the Bureau to suspend leasing given the COVID-19 crisis and the economic state of the oil and gas industry.
Appeals, or protests, were also filed by other environmental organizations, including The Wilderness Society and the Audubon Society, as well as by over 10,000 individuals.
The Bureau of Land Management is moving ahead to sell public lands in southeast New Mexico despite pleas from Indigenous, environmental, and community groups for the agency to pause its plans.
Citing public health risks and the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on everyday life, the groups, representing more than two million members, urged the Bureau of Land Management to prioritize responding to the current health crisis.
The Bureau of Land Management is already under fire for selling public lands for fracking in southeast New Mexico.
A lawsuit filed last year by WildEarth Guardians challenges the failure of the agency to account for the climate consequences of authorizing more oil and gas extraction and more greenhouse gas emissions. The final brief in that case was filed last month by WildEarth Guardians attorneys.
The agency’s proposal to sell public lands for fracking comes as the oil and gas industry is in an economic free-fall in New Mexico and in other states. While drilling rates are plummeting, companies are even asking regulators to curb production rates to reduce supply.
“The Bureau of Land Management is exploiting the COVID-19 chaos, trying to turn the public health crisis into a payday for polluters,” said Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “Communities need clean air and water more than ever during a respiratory pandemic. The administration must be held accountable for sacrificing public health to protect the oil and gas industry, whose actions only exacerbate the crisis.”
“My heart goes out to rank and file employees who have to man their terminals at the behest of their oil and gas masters to lease more federal lands for drilling,” said Mario Atencio, board member with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment. “Our communities are already dealing with the impacts of oil and gas and are now being kicked while we’re down.”
“While hundreds of thousands of Americans are suffering on an unprecedented scale, this administration appears to be more concerned with boosting the oil and gas industry instead of prioritizing public health and safety,” said Miya King-Flaherty, organizer, Sierra Club – Rio Grande Chapter. “By moving forward with its oil and gas leasing activities, the Bureau of Land Management has shown that sacrificing our public lands, health and safety, and air and water resources are its main priority in a time when we need leadership, support, and concern for our climate and health.”
“By proceeding with these lease sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, BLM is taking advantage of a public health emergency to curtail public participation further and push this administration’s unjust energy-dominance agenda forward,” said Ally Beasley with the Western Environmental Law Center. “This sacrifices public health and enables oil and gas development in defiance of current economic realities of the fossil fuel industry. In short, this exacerbates the current public health crisis as well as the global climate crisis.”
“Spending federal resources, staff time, and energy on leasing public lands for oil and gas development represents the lowest possible national priority at this time” said Margaret Wadsworth of Food and Water Action, “and yet, the Bureau of Land Management continues these lease sales. How can we democratically educate the public on issues that impact our land, climate, and health while personal time needs to be spent staying healthy and addressing the pandemic? This administration continues to show Americans that our personal safety and community needs are never the priority over oil and gas industry interests”