Even without looking at a photo album, I can picture in my mind’s eye a vacation photo from the gorgeous BLM-managed (Bureau of Land Management) land near Moab, Utah. That image of my family and friends on a bicycle trip in the red rock lands, perfectly faded by time, carefully preserved for posterity. Nowhere in that photo does a fracking rig, or any telltale signs of industrial activity appear. But skip ahead fifteen or twenty years into the future, and this photo could be telling an entirely different story.
That’s because parcels of BLM-managed land like the ones near Moab Valley, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and so many others in the U.S., may be at risk from nearby fracking. President Obama’s BLM controls access to more than 700 million acres of federally owned mineral rights, some of which sit adjacent to public parks.
Some 38 million acres of that land is currently leased, and over the past three years, the oil and gas industry has drilled over three thousand new wells, 90 percent of which have been (or will be) fracked. In fact, existing and proposed drilling and fracking operations overseen by the BLM threaten public lands, nearby watersheds, air quality and the health and safety of surrounding communities in 27 states.
The mission of the BLM, according to its own website, is “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” But how can future generations be expected to enjoy lands that sit adjacent to hardcore industrial activity?
Earlier this summer, the Associated Press revealed that four in 10 new oil and gas wells on BLM-managed property are not being inspected. According to AP analysis of BLM records, between 2009 and 2012, 1,400 wells deemed “high priority” were not examined for potential safety violations. The BLM simply isn’t upholding its responsibility to protect our lands, yet the Obama administration wants to allow more of these potential time bombs to tick away just miles from many of our nation’s treasures. Even one former BLM employee deemed these wells “a disaster waiting to happen.”
Last year, the agency released new rules for drilling and fracking on federal lands. If enacted, these rules would fail to protect those sacred areas from fracking. Food & Water Watch, joined by a coalition of nearly 300 environmental and consumer organizations, submitted more than half a million public comments urging the Obama administration to ban fracking on federal lands. Nearly a year later, little has happened. But this is a pivotal moment.
President Obama is nearing the end of his exhausting and contentious presidency, with an eye, no doubt, to his legacy. Will he ultimately embody the progressive values he campaigned on, or will he sell off our lands and our collective futures to Big Oil and Gas? When it comes to preserving our natural parks, will he be remembered more like Teddy Roosevelt, or will he be lumped in with the Koch Brothers?
The BLM has asked the government for $150 million to support well inspections, but Congress can do better. Our legislative branch has the power to protect our public lands from fracking, not by throwing money at problematic wells, but by banning oil and gas development on public lands altogether. That’s why Congress needs to introduce legislation to that effect.
By now, we’ve seen enough accidents at fracking and drilling sites to know that the practice cannot be safely regulated. We’ve read countless news articles about fracking contaminating water supplies, contributing to global warming and possibly causing earthquakes in regions of the U.S. that typically do not see much seismic activity. So why mar the landscapes near our treasured national lands with fracking rigs, waste pits, well sites and new roads? Is nothing sacred?
I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy the Moab area as I have more than a dozen times over the past 25 years. But if oil and gas development continues to threaten our nation’s treasured lands, all we, and President Obama, will have left is one toxic legacy.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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