Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 13, 2016

Contact: Wendy Park, (510) 844-7138, 

Legal Protest Filed Against Fossil Fuel Auction of Public Lands in Southwestern Colorado

BLM Ignores Impacts to Climate, Rivers, Endangered Fish, Gunnison Sage Grouse

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed a formal administrative protest Monday night challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off more than 17,000 acres — 26 square miles — of publicly owned fossil fuels in southwestern Colorado in February. The public lands are situated along the remote, wild southwestern and southern flanks of the San Juan Mountains.

Fracking and related industrialization threaten air, water and wildlife in the region. Eight parcels to be auctioned are located adjacent to or near habitat for Gunnison sage grouse, protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. The bird has lost 88 percent to 93 percent of its historical range. Water use and oil and chemical spills from fracking also threaten to further deplete and pollute tributaries of Colorado River, in turn harming its four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and humpback chub. 

Despite these threats the Bureau of Land Management refused to undertake site-specific environmental analyses required under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. The agency also refused to analyze the potential greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the fracking operations. Recent studies have shown that there is already more oil, gas and coal in production to take us beyond 2 degrees Celsius of warming.

“It’s irresponsible for the BLM to issue new fossil fuel leases on public lands without considering the impact that extracting and burning fossil fuels will have on the climate, rivers and imperiled wildlife,” said ­­­­Wendy Park, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the recent election result, the Obama administration should move immediately to halt new leasing on public lands to preserve his climate legacy.”

The protest called on the Bureau to halt new leasing of fossil fuels in the proposed area and asks that the agency’s scheduled February 2017 auction be halted due to its failure to consider impacts of fossil fuel extraction on rivers and streams that feed the Colorado River.

Download a copy of the protest here.

On behalf of the American people, the U.S. federal government manages nearly 650 million acres of public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes 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 the 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. A 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 the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) 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.”

Download the September 2015 “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama. 

Download Grounded: The Presidents Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet. 

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Critical Gulf: The Vital Importance of Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits about the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling on the Obama administration to halt all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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