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Online Auction Allows Big Oil to Frack Public Lands for as Little as $2 Per Acre

Energy

By Ryan Schleeter

Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wish it were easier for fossil fuel companies to get their hands on public land so they can drill for oil and gas?" Yeah, neither have I.

Unfortunately, that seems to be what the Obama Administration was thinking when it announced it would move auctions for the rights to exploit public lands for fossil fuels to an online bidding process.

But if the fossil fuel industry and our government think they can hide from keep it in the ground activists by moving online, they're wrong.

Fracking on public lands in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania.EcoFlight

How We Got Here

The switch to online auctions is a direct result of pressure built by the keep it in the ground movement over the past year.

Fossil fuel lease auctions—organized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—had been relatively dull events conducted in person for years. But recently, activists have taken the events by storm, converging on lease sales across the country in peaceful protest to make it clear that our public lands are not for oil and gas profit.

Since this time last year, the BLM has cancelled or postponed nine of 15 scheduled sales due to mounting public pressure.

In May, activists temporarily blockaded the entrance to a Holiday Inn in Lakewood, Colorado. Earlier this month, Gulf Coast climate justice activists rallied outside a lease sale at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And just last week, 13 activists were arrested after occupying the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC to demand no new fossil fuel leases and an end to projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But instead of hearing the concerns of the 1 million people who want the U.S. fossil fuels to stay in the ground, the BLM is listening to the fossil fuel industry and simply changing venues.

Enter today's online auction.

Why Today's Auction Matters

More than 4,000 acres of land will be made available across Missouri and Kansas, but what's at stake goes beyond this individual sale.

Fossil fuel executives see online auctions as a way to "end the circus" created by keep it in the ground activists mobilizing in the thousands at recent lease sales. Never mind that these auctions are for our public land and that this "circus" is what the right to assembly and freedom of expression look like in practice.

To make the switch online, the BLM has turned to a company called EnergyNet, dubbed "eBay for oilfields" by Forbes Magazine. EnergyNet has been in the business of auctioning private land for oil and gas exploitation for years, but this is its first foray into selling off federal land.

Starting today, fossil fuel representatives can follow EnergyNet's simple 8-step bidding process to lease the rights to drill and frack for as little as $2 per acre. If no else bids, a company could buy the entire parcel available for the price of a used Camry. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency found last year that inaction on climate change could cost the country $180 billion by the end of the century.

Online or Offline, Keep It in the Ground Activists Will Be There

The venue might be different, but our call is the same: To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need keep fossil fuels in the ground.

This is the last lease sale of the year, which means we can't let it go by quietly. No matter how the industry tries to insulate its auctions, the climate is still changing—and we will not remain silent.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management and EnergyNet that they can't silence the climate movement—it's time to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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