Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 12, 2016

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,
John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 259-1063,

Legal Protest Challenges Plan to Frack 45,000 Acres in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY— The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers on Monday filed a formal administrative protest challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to auction more than 45,000 acres of public land in Utah for fracking. The sale, which was postponed in November due to impending protests, includes parcels in the BLM’s Moab, Price, Vernal and Fillmore field offices in central and eastern Utah and within the Fishlake National Forest in Sevier County.

“If President Obama wants to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as he agreed to do at the Paris climate talks, he needs to end the federal fossil fuel leasing program,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “Each new auction undermines that goal with more carbon pollution while destroying fragile Utah canyon country and harming air, water and habitat for imperiled species like endangered Colorado River fish, Mexican spotted owls and greater sage grouse.”

The filing calls on the BLM and the Obama administration to cancel the fossil fuel auction and “keep it in the ground.” A study commissioned by the Center and Friends of the Earth late last year projects that the potential greenhouse gas pollution from unleased federal fossil fuels is incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon budgets to keep warming below 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal world leaders agreed to in the Paris climate pact. It also found that banning new fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution out of the atmosphere.

“With oil companies in liquidation, a warming climate and dwindling Colorado River supplies, committing more Utah canyon country to fossil fuel industrialization makes no sense,” said John Weisheit, conservation director at Moab-based Living Rivers. “Now is the time to transition to clean, renewable energy, and to keep climate-destroying fossil fuels in the ground.”

Avoiding dangerous warming requires leaving the vast majority of already proved fossil fuels undeveloped. By opening new fossil fuel deposits, federal fossil fuel auctions perpetuate a stark conflict between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy.

Facing growing public support for the “Keep It in the Ground” movement to end new leases for federal oil, gas and coal extraction, federal officials halted oil and gas auctions slated for Utah and Washington, D.C. Hundreds of people turned out for similar protests last fall in Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado and Alaska.

More than 400 organizations and leaders working on the “Keep It in the Ground” campaign have called on Obama to end new federal fossil fuel leases following reports that doing so would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the ground, and that the president has the legal authority to do so now, without Congress. Those emissions would be incompatible with any reasonable U.S. share of global carbon budgets to avoid catastrophic warming.

Download the Utah fossil fuel 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 lands like national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that 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 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 August 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 has not been leased to industry contains up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

As of 2015, 67 million acres 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.

The potential greenhouse gas emissions of unleased federal fossil fuels — including unleased oil and gas in Colorado — is incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon limits to avoid dangerous warming. By ending new leasing, the president can remove up to 450 billion tons from the global pool of potential greenhouse gas emissions.  

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

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground here (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 here (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet here.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits here (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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