Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 15, 2016

Contact:   Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414 
John Weisheit, Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper, (435) 259-1063
Matt Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 579-5162

Legal Protest Challenges Fossil Fuels Auction on 8,000 Acres in Colorado

Fracking Threatens Climate, Endangered Fish, Roadless Forests

DENVER— Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest on Monday against a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off more than 8,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in the San Juan National Forest and Little Snake Field Office in western Colorado.

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease takes us closer to climate disaster,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Leaving a livable climate for future generations requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground now, and we should start with the public lands that President Obama controls.”

The protest, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers, Utah Rivers Council, Rocky Mountain Wild and Sierra Club, calls on the BLM to abandon its auction plans and keep fossil fuels in the ground to protect the climate, wildlife and public lands. The protest identifies the plans’ failure to analyze climate impacts or consider an alternative that would suspend public lands fossil fuel development to protect the climate. 

The protest challenges the Bureau’s failure to protect the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and its Colorado River and San Juan River Basin habitat from the impacts of water depletions caused by oil and gas development, toxic spills, climate change and corresponding declines in river flows. It also challenges leasing on four parcels located on U.S. Forest Service lands designated as roadless areas under the 2011 Colorado Roadless Rule.

“We understood that when Congress passed the 2005 Energy Policy Act, it was bad news for the Colorado River basin for this one fundamental reason: That water consumption by the energy corporations would increase the demand for water in an over-appropriated system, compounded by the impairment to the water cycle from greenhouse gas emissions,” said John Weisheit with Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “The federal government must make the right choice and deny these permits so people and wildlife will have secure and clean water."

Monday’s protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” rallies opposed to federal fossil fuel auctions have been growing across the country, and have caused several of those auctions to be postponed.

“BLM’s decision to lease thousands of acres within designated roadless areas undercuts the importance of this designation,” said Matt Sandler with Rocky Mountain Wild. “These undeveloped, contiguous areas are essential for many species like Canada lynx and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.” 

Download the 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 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 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. An August 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 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 (D-Vt.) and others introduced 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 a letter from more than 400 groups and climate leaders urging President Obama to halt new federal fossil fuel leasing.

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).

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