A new Trump administration plan proposes to auction off 4,200 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona. The lands straddle the Little Colorado River, are within three miles of Petrified Forest National Park, and are near habitat for a federally threatened fish called the Little Colorado spinedace. Drilling and fracking would threaten to deplete and pollute groundwater in the Little Colorado River Basin.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is planning the September auction—which would convey development rights to fossil-fuel companies—without any site-specific public or environmental review, as required by federal law. Planning documents cite Trump policies that forego National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis to fast-track fracking on public lands. According to BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.
“This dangerous plan puts national parks, precious groundwater and wildlife in the crosshairs. We’ll do everything we can to stop it,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Fracking is a dirty, dangerous business that consumes enormous amounts of water and threatens wildlife and public health. Northern Arizonans won’t tolerate public lands being sacrificed as gifts from Trump to the fossil fuel industry.”
The BLM is using a shortcut to bypass the analysis of fracking’s harm to the land and water that is required under NEPA. The sweeping “determinations of NEPA adequacy,” or DNAs, presume that oil and gas development complies with the agency’s 30-year-old resource management plan, which predates the U.S. fracking boom. The agency is also foregoing tribal consultations, stating that “tribal consultation was adequate for the [resource management plan].” By deferring all analysis until the drilling-permit stage—after industry has the right to develop the land—the bureau is unable to deny subsequent drilling plans.
“Fracking or drilling development could be catastrophic for the region’s groundwater,” said McKinnon. “This is Trump’s energy dominance policy at work, where nothing matters except fossil-fuel interests.”
Trump policies issued in January require the BLM to auction lands nominated by the fracking industry, skip site-specific environmental review and limit public input. BLM records show that since 2014 the fracking industry requested 145 parcels in northern Arizona for oil and gas leasing, most near the Hurricane Cliffs and Big Valley north of Grand Canyon National Park.
The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the BLM for using DNAs to plan oil and gas auctions in Ohio and Colorado. In April the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration over its January policy encouraging their use.