Oil and Gas

The Problem

For more than a century, oil and gas development on public lands has damaged ecosystems, harmed species, and contaminated soil, air, and water. The construction of drilling facilities fragments public lands, displacing wildlife and destroying habitat, while oil spills, fires and other pollution can contaminate surface and ground water. Roads built for drilling increase human activity in formerly undisturbed areas and can lead to increased poaching, litter, roadkill and human-caused fires; and they facilitate the spread of exotic species that replace native flora and fauna. Most acutely, oil and gas development perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels, committing the people and their public lands to more greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Our Campaigns

The Center is working to halt new oil and gas development on some of America’s most important public lands and in all U.S. waters, home to critically endangered species and vital habitat — across the West, from Southern California to the Alaskan arctic, to back East in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico.

Since the BP oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the Center’s swift, decisive action and in-depth investigating have made us the leader in uncovering government scandals and mismanagement, and in pushing for important protections for wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and other areas vulnerable to similar oil spills. So far, the Center has launched nine lawsuits to make sure BP and the federal government are held accountable for the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history and to make sure such a disaster doesn’t happen again. Learn more.

Arctic Oil Development
Alaska’s north coast and the ocean waters adjoining it are home to numerous threatened and endangered animals. The coastal plain of the Western Arctic Reserve provides critical denning areas for polar bears, and the Beaufort Sea is habitat for not only polar bears but also bowhead whales, spectacled eiders and other species newly imperiled by global warming. Sadly, this seasonally frozen area is also severely threatened by oil development. The Center works hard to save this area and its resident species from oil exploration and drilling. Learn more.

The Center is also working hard in North America and abroad to oppose liquefied natural gas, often called "LNG," which has a carbon footprint almost as big as coal's.

In May 2017 the Center moved to intervene in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceedings on the state of Alaska’s plans to build the nation’s largest-ever liquid natural-gas project, Alaska LNG, involving an 807-mile pipeline, a liquefied natural gas facility and the shipping of 20 million tons of this condensed fuel abroad every year. This project would vastly expand drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Arctic.

Earlier work against LNG developent includes a 2010 notice of intent to sue by the Center and allies against the U.S. Export-Import Bank over the financing of a facility in Papua New Guinea without analyzing the project’s environmental impacts. Back in 2005, when Chevron proposed to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Baja California — less than 700 yards from the Coronado Islands, which are home to 10 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world and provide nesting habitat for six threatened or endangered bird species, including the rare Xantus’s murrelet — the Center joined with other U.S. and Mexican conservation organizations to file a formal petition with an international environmental commission established under the North American Free Trade Agreement. As a result, in early 2007 the commission ordered an investigation into whether its approval of the “energy maquiladora” violated environmental laws, and Chevron abandoned its plans soon after.

The Center is closely tracking a Bureau of Land Management plan to offer 168,000 lease acres for oil and gas development on public lands in New Mexico and in west Texas by auction. Four districts under the agency’s jurisdiction are preparing separate environmental assessments for the development, with the largest planned for the Las Cruces and Farmington districts. On April 22, 2009, the Center and partners submitted a protest of the $4.9 million oil and gas lease sale proposed by the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management that would affect almost 44,000 acres of public lands. The protest focused on the fact that the Bureau failed to analyze greenhouse gas emissions, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. We’re awaiting a response and will continue to track developments in the area, which have the potential to hurt threatened and endangered species including the least tern, northern aplomado falcon, black-footed ferret, Pecos gambusia, Gila trout, loach minnow and spikedace.

In March 2009, the Bureau of Land Management approved the sale of 23 oil and gas leases on parcels of public land in sensitive habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox, a species whose numbers have been declining since its listing as an endangered species in 1967. In approving the sale, the Bureau authorized the leasing of 4,402 acres of public lands for oil and gas development, which includes building exploratory and developing wells, running seismic lines, and building access roads and vehicle routes. All parcels are located in Kern County in the San Joaquin Valley, which is home to a majority of California’s oil and gas development. The Center filed a formal protest with the Bureau to stop this sale, as well as a notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act. Depending on the agency’s response to our protest and notice of intent to sue, we’ll consider subsequent litigation in the third or fourth quarters of 2009.

We’ve already had success against another California oil and gas lease sale, this one involving 21 oil and gas leases slated for more than 35,000 acres of public land in Monterey County — also an area that’s home to the San Joaquin kit fox, as well as the California condor and other imperiled species. A week after the Center and allies filed a protest against the sale with the Bureau of Land Management and warned we’d sue under the Endangered Species Act, Monterey County voted to delay the sale for at least three months while it assessed the sale’s impacts. The Bureau said it would hold off on the auction and would reconsider leasing the 21 land parcels at some indefinite point in the future.

Due to an administrative protest filed by the Center, Friends of Blackwater Canyon, and other groups, a plan by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to auction off oil and gas leases on a sensitive area of the Monongahela National Forest was withdrawn. Oil and gas drilling in the area would have hurt the federally listed endangered Indiana bat and Virginia big-eared bat.

Oil and gas drilling in the Monongahela would potentially also hurt water quality and stream flows; native brook trout and other wildlife, such as the endangered Cheat Mountain salamander and the West Virginia northern flying squirrel; proposed wilderness in the Seneca Creek area; and the economic and recreational values of the national recreation area. We’ll continue to monitor any oil and gas development action on the Monongahela with an eye toward ensuring that all possible risks to bats and climate change impacts are taken into account by the agency.

From the giant redwoods and craggy peaks of Big Sur to the poppy fields and pinyon pines north of Los Angeles, the Los Padres National Forest contains some of the most breathtaking scenery in California. Stretching over almost 2 million acres of the state’s coastal mountains, this beautiful area is both a popular site for human recreation and essential habitat for countless species — including the highly endangered California condor.

But Los Padres’ natural beauty and biological integrity are also severely threatened by oil and gas development. Currently being drilled under 22 oil-drilling leases covering 14, 618 acres, since 2004 the national forest has seen nearly a dozen significant spills — including a massive January 2007 spill in which at least 200 gallons of oil and 2,100 gallons of wastewater were released into Tar Creek, a tributary of the designated “wild and scenic” Sespe Creek that runs along the border of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary. Other spills have decimated habitat along Four Forks Creek — another Sespe Creek tributary — and Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, another of Los Padres’ vital condor havens.

Despite these spills, the Forest Service continues to move forward with its Bush administration-prompted 2005 decision to open the national forest to devastating new oil and gas leases. Under the new plan, more than 52,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties would be subject to new drilling projects and more than 4,200 acres would be affected by new infrastructure. The plan would allow surface drilling adjacent to three wilderness areas and slant drilling beneath three creeks designated or proposed for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, as well as calling for new surface drilling next to the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. In April 2007, the Center joined with Defenders of Wildlife and Los Padres National Forest Watch in a lawsuit contesting that the new plan violates the National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act.

To stop the construction of a devastating natural gas pipeline in Colorado roadless areas, in early 2008 the Center and allies filed a landmark lawsuit charging the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management with violating the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The construction of the 25-mile Bull Mountain gas pipeline, which would require more than eight miles of new roads in three separate roadless areas in western Colorado, would clearly go against the 2001 law’s prohibition of road building on designated roadless lands in U.S. national forests. Our suit is meant not only to conserve Colorado’s pristine public lands, but also to serve as a national test case for future interpretation of the Roadless Rule.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline by USGS.