Conservation groups on Tuesday challenged a Bureau of Land Management decision to auction off more than 27,000 acres of western Colorado public lands in December for fracking operations.
Fracking would threaten the dwindling water supply in the Colorado River, a water source for about 40 million people. It also would worsen Colorado’s air, water and greenhouse gas pollution and further imperil endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.
“Using massive amounts of the Colorado River’s precious water to create carbon pollution is disastrous public policy,” said Taylor McKinnon at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This fracking plan is another giveaway to fossil fuel companies. It exploits public land and endangers the health and future of the western U.S. to enrich already rich people.”
Warming temperatures driven by greenhouse gas pollution have already reduced flows in the Colorado River, which supplies water to seven western states and Mexico. Scientists project that flow declines could exceed 30 percent by mid-century and 55 percent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.
“In the face of an accelerating water crisis in western Colorado driven by overuse, drought and climate change, and its own clear evidence that this lease sale will result in significant water depletions in the critical Upper Colorado River Basin, BLM has chosen to put the water supply of 40 million people in seven states at additional risk to meet the needs of the water-hungry oil and gas industry,” said Kate Hudson, western advocacy coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “Our communities, our western waterways and our planet will pay the price.”
The BLM approved the auction and ignored its responsibility to conduct a new environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The agency is relying on broad-brushed analyses for its resource-management plans that don’t account for key environmental issues, including spills, greenhouse gas pollution, climate-driven reductions to the Colorado River supply and risks to endangered fish.
“BLM has an obligation to the American public to consider and disclose the potential impacts of new leasing,” said Wilderness Workshop’s Peter Hart. “Here, though, BLM refused to do any analysis at all. Instead, the agency is relying on broad level plans that defer site-specific analysis of potential impacts and fail to take a hard look at cumulative impacts. Simply put, BLM is trying to hide the ball and leasing more fossil fuels without taking a hard look at the consequences.”
Horizontal drilling and fracking require millions of gallons of water and hundreds of tons of fracking chemicals, and each well produces millions of gallons of wastewater. Previous wells in the area have required more than 24 million gallons of fresh water. That water is irreversibly contaminated and permanently disposed of underground, resulting in a permanent loss to the Colorado River Basin’s water supply.
“In the face of a drying Colorado River, fracking is a terrible use of public lands that threatens downstream communities like Moab that rely on the river’s water,” said John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “This plan is irresponsible not just for people downstream, but for the river’s endangered fish too.”
The BLM failed to analyze the risks of chemical spills from fracking operations before approving this massive auction. According to a nationwide review of oil and gas spills by EnergyWire, there have been 2,500 spills that contaminated groundwater since 2009. In 2015 more than 10,000 spills, blowouts and other mishaps occurred at oil and gas sites in 2015. That same year more than 600 fracking chemical spills occurred in Colorado, and 91 of them affected water sources.
Today’s protest was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and Wilderness Workshop.
Download a copy of today’s protest here.
*Photo by Wolfgang Staudt from Saarbruecken, Germany