Online Auction Allows Big Oil to Frack Public Lands for as Little as $2 Per Acre
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.
#KeepItInTheGround activists delivered 1 MILLION signatures to @POTUS yesterday! No new pipelines, no new leases. https://t.co/pgngWgyx3U— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1474041812.0
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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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.