Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 20, 2016

Contact:  Rebecca Sobel, WildEarth Guardians, (267) 402-0724,
Mariel Nanasi, New Energy Economy, (505) 989-7262,
Maria Jose Alcazar, Earth Care, (505) 204-0664,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,           

Protesters Tell Feds to 'Keep It in the Ground' at New Mexico Oil, Gas Lease Sale

Hundreds Call for Bold Climate Leadership at 'Climate Auction'

SANTA FE, N.M. More than 200 protesters with signs and large banners staged a colorful climate rally today outside of the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease sale in Santa Fe, N.M. today urging President Obama to “Keep It in the Ground.”

Keep It in the Ground
Photo by Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity. Photos are available for media use.

The BLM’s “climate auction,” as protesters dubbed it, allowed industry to bid on oil and gas leases for 2,300 acres of publicly owned land in Kansas and Oklahoma. The group, united under the rallying cry “Not here, not there, not anywhere,” cited similar threats of oil and gas development to Chaco Canyon, the Santa Fe National Forest and Sandoval County, and called on the Obama administration to expand its climate leadership by ending the public leasing program and establishing immediate comprehensive methane safeguards for all oil and gas infrastructure.

“Young people in New Mexico are standing up with local allies and communities across the country to say no to fossil fuel extraction on public lands,” said Castille Aguilar, a youth organizer with Earth Care in Santa Fe. “We demand the federal government protect our planet and our futures from catastrophic climate change by leaving all remaining oil, gas, and coal reserves in the ground. Affordable renewable energy alternatives are not only available today, they offer our generation the opportunity for good paying jobs and the prospect of a future to look forward to.”

The protest takes place just two days before President Obama is scheduled to sign the international climate agreement set in Paris last year.

“The president says he’s committed to averting climate catastrophe, but across New Mexico the BLM is still singing drill, baby, drill,” said Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians. “The West is rising to demand our leaders keep our public lands in the public interest; today’s demonstration proves we’re not willing to stand idly while our climate is auctioned off for short-term oil and gas industry profit.”

Federal oil and gas leasing contributes significantly to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Existing federal U.S. oil and gas leases will release 20 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution; oil and gas containing up to 89 billion tons — the equivalent pollution of driving 1.8 billion cars for a decade — have yet to be leased to industry. Some federal leases are given to oil companies for as little as $1.50 per acre.

“Our community, like communities across the country, is standing up to reject the notion that we must auction off our public lands for pennies to the oil and gas industry,” said Mariel Nanasi, executive director for New Energy Economy. “We cannot subject our public lands to exploitation for a boom-and-bust economy that brings short-term gains to private fossil fuel corporations while robbing the public of our health, our environment, our economic stability and our children's future.”

On Monday groups delivered a letter to President Obama and BLM State Director Amy Lueders calling for the auction to be cancelled. The agency authorized the sale despite widespread concern about its direct link to global climate change. Administrative challenges to the auction by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and others reduced its size from 36,000 to 2,300 acres.

“Each federal fossil fuel auction steps us closer to climate catastrophe,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “President Obama should align his energy policies with his climate goals by ending new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans. He can do that now, without Congress, and keep 450 billion tons from the global pool of potential greenhouse gas pollution.”

The rally is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to halt new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution, equivalent to the pollution of 118,000 power plants, safely in the ground. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests are planned for upcoming auctions in Cheyenne, Wyo., Billings, Mont., and Lakewood, Colo. Since November protested lease sales have been postponed in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

Groups participating in today’s rally included:, 350 New Mexico, The Campaign to End Sacrifice Zones, Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Care, Environment New Mexico, Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Food and Water Watch, Frack Free New Mexico, Friends of the Earth, The Global Warming Express, Idle No More Four Corners, Indigenous Life Ways, Interfaith Worker Justice, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, New Energy Economy, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light,  Osceola Energy, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, Tewa Women United, United Native Americans, WildEarth Guardians and Wise Fool New Mexico.  

Additional statements from individuals and groups participating in the rally:

“We have an addiction and it is killing us. The health effects of oil and gas exploration are devastating and their magnitude is enormous on the individual, local and global scale. Since last year, over 50 pipeline accidents have caused injuries, deaths and long-term health effects from exposure to petrochemicals including chronic lung, immune and neurological disease and cancer. Fracking risks contaminating drinking water in hundreds of communities. The worst greenhouse-gas disaster in US history in California this year caused illnesses in the community and contributed to a climate crisis creating world-wide drought, hunger and refugees from human-influenced natural disasters. 

So I’d like to write a prescription for the BLM and the Obama administration, the only cure for the terrible addiction to fossil fuels that is risking our health and our future. Rx: Keep It in the Ground,” said Wendy Johnson, local Santa Fe family physician and public health expert. (505) 982-4425,

“All you grownups keep talking about climate change and your grandchildren. What about my grandchildren? Don’t kids get to have dreams for their grandchildren, too? What I say about ending fossil fuel use is: We are either doing this, or we are not. There is no in-between. I call on the grownups to do this,” said Marina, 11 years old, of The Global Warming Express. (505) 660-2157,

"We live in an amazing moment of moral truth as we face climate change. As Pope Francis laid out in Laudato Si, On Care of Our Common Home, we face a challenge to transition from fossil fuels, while addressing worker well-being and creating a hopeful and livable home for future generations, the economically vulnerable and all creation that we share with Earth.  People of faith are concerned with the BLM lease process because it is part of the transition that requires a preferential option for the poor and the planet that needs to be founded in ‘integral ecology,’ " said Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. (505) 264-9966,

“The science is clear: We must turn the page on fossil fuels, stop sacrificing our communities, and stop destabilizing the climate. Putting an end to leasing of publicly owned fossil fuels is the surest way to keep this coal, oil and natural gas safely in the ground. The fossil fuel industry, and the big banks that own the fossil fuel industry’s billions in debt, are raking in the profits at all of our expense. We will not stop fighting for what is right. We will make sure publicly owned fossil fuels stay in the ground, unburned, and see that people benefit from a rapid and just transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” said Eleanor Bravo, Southwest organizer at Food & Water Watch. (505) 633-7366,

“We’re already experiencing dangerous consequences of climate change — from drought to superstorms to rising seas — and scientists are clear that to avoid even more catastrophic impacts, we must transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. We simply can’t continue to drill, mine and burn more fossil fuels while global warming passes the point of no return,” said Sanders Moore, director of Environment New Mexico/Environment New Mexico Research & Policy Center. (505) 254-4819, 

“Fossil fuel companies have made millions off public-land leases while wrecking the environment, harming people’s health, violating Indigenous rights, and passing off massive cleanup costs to taxpayers. It’s time for President Obama and the BLM to heed the people’s call to keep it in the ground, end the corporate giveaway, and cancel these lands sales forever,” said Ruth Breech, senior campaigner from Rainforest Action Network. (415) 238-1766, 

“President Obama has the power to keep these fossil fuels in the ground with the stroke of a pen. From Santa Fe to New Orleans to Alaska and beyond, people across the country are calling on the Obama administration to protect our communities and our climate, and keep fossil fuels in the ground," said Jason Kowalski, U.S. policy director. (202) 670-5345,

Some 67 million acres of U.S. public lands are already leased to dirty fossil fuel industries, an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park, and containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. Nearly one quarter of all U.S. climate pollution already comes from burning fossil fuels from public lands. Remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion additional tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

In September more than 400 organizations called on President Obama to end federal fossil fuel leasing. In November Senators 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. Last month the Obama administration placed a moratorium on federal coal leasing while the Department of the Interior studies its impacts on taxpayers and the planet. Since November 2015, in response to protests, the BLM has postponed oil and gas leasing auctions in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

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

Download Grounded: The President’s 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).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

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

Download WildEarth Guardians’ formal petition calling on the Department of the Interior to study for the first time ever the climate impacts of the federal oil and gas leasing program and to place a moratorium on new leasing until that study is completed.

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

Download Mind The Gap, on closing the methane emissions gap between the Obama administration's promise and proposals.

Download The Emerging U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry on reducing methane emissions and creating jobs. 

Images from today’s protest are available for media use (after 12 p.m.):

Go back