Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 23, 2016

Contact:  My-Linh Le, (510) 844-7115,
Katie Schaefer, (415) 977-5745,

Conservation Groups Ask BLM to Withdraw Oil and Gas Leasing Proposal

 Earthquake Risks From Fracking, Injection Wells Could Threaten Public Safety

OKLAHOMA CITY The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club filed a letter Tuesday urging the Bureau of Land Management to cancel its proposed sale of nine oil and gas lease parcels in Oklahoma. The letter highlighted the increase in human-induced earthquake activity in Oklahoma and the BLM’s ongoing refusal to analyze those potential impacts in its recent oil and gas lease approvals.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that dangerous wastewater-injection practices cause destructive quakes, the BLM — which reviews and auctions public lands for fracking — failed to consider these effects in its evaluation of the April 2017 lease sale. An environmental review for the agency’s most recent lease auction in April 2016 also failed to consider these effects.

“We don’t need a major earthquake that claims lives and costs millions in damage to tell us that the rapid increase in fracking and wastewater injection in Oklahoma and neighboring states is the cause,” said My-Linh Le with the Center. “It’s only a matter of time until these increasingly frequent quakes cause catastrophic damage. Alongside the worsening climate crisis, human-induced earthquakes are yet another reason President Obama should end the federal fossil fuel leasing programs now.”

Several quakes of magnitude 5.0 or greater have already occurred in Oklahoma this year, including a 5.0 magnitude earthquake on November 6 in Cushing, and a 5.8 quake on September 3 in Pawnee. The increase in the frequency of high-magnitude quakes has been linked to wastewater injection from oil and gas production, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study. Scientists warn that the spike in larger earthquakes this year could presage quakes of even greater magnitude.

The environmentalists’ letter also warned that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on the proposed lease parcels could lead to spills and leaks from oil and gas operations, contaminating water resources. Four of the proposed parcels for lease underlie the Canadian River, including critical habitat for the threatened Arkansas River shiner, a fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“It is unacceptable to allow fracking in one of the last places where the rare Arkansas River shiner is found, and below a critical water supply for Oklahoma residents,” said Katie Schaefer of the Sierra Club. 

Earlier this month the Center and Sierra Club called on the Bureau to withdraw 11 oil and gas leases in Oklahoma and Kansas sold in its April 2016 auction because of earthquake risks and the potential loss of lesser-prairie chicken habitat. The BLM has yet to issue the leases or respond to that request.

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 nonproducing 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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