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Idaho Residents Protest Auction of Public Lands for Oil and Gas Drilling
Yesterday, prior to the Idaho Oil and Gas Commission auctioning of mineral rights for 17,700 acres of state endowment land, a small but lively group of residents protested the sale, which saw every tract awarded to Alta Mesa Idaho for $1,148,435 in "bonus bids."
For an hour they sang the climate activism song "Do it Now," and carried signs calling for more public input on how state lands are put up for auction without warning about the health and environmental consequences that come with development.
The protest was organized by Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Idaho Residents Against Gas Extraction (IRAGE). The Muse Project was also represented, and though the protesters may not have belonged to any one group they were all linked by a common concern over Idaho's future and what hazards oil and gas extraction activities may bring.
"I just don't think with oil and gas, to continue developing and extracting it with all the knowledge we have, it just doesn't make any sense to continue to push that," said Boise resident Lisa Stravers.
Chris Wylie, of Boise, protested the sale in concern over what gas drilling will do to water supplies.
"So far, the state doesn't have much development but I'm very concerned about fracking in the future, and what injecting chemicals at very pressures into the Earth and through aquifers will do," Wylie said. "Plus, when something goes wrong the clean up costs are pushed to the taxpayer. What would happen if energy developers had to pay for the true costs?"
During a quick break from singing, Wanda Jennings, donning rabbit ears in fashion for the upcoming Easter holiday, said she wasn't too concerned with the small number of protesters who came out yesterday morning. “They know we are here and we're keeping an eye on what they are doing,” said Jennings. "We are not unnoticed and that's important."
Boise resident Johnny Walker hopes state officials notice residents' concerns and do more to protect the environment and property that may be impacted by industry. “Leasing public lands to the highest bidder, it's not safe for our future and it's not right,” Walker said. “This state was once concerned about conservation.”
Walker joined the protest with his two youngest children in tow, lamenting the possibility "they may not get to go outside," in the county he grew up in.
He has reason to be concerned. A recent study study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Environmental Health Perspectives' found that within a 10-mile radius surrounding fracking sites pregnant women's' unborn children are more susceptible to congenital heart defects.
"It doesn't just affect my nostalgia, it impacts our future," Walker continued. "I don't live in any delusional world where they aren't going to drill. That said, I hope the state puts in place rules for the testing of water wells and state waters around drill sites so that—God forbid—if and when casings go we have recourse in the courts."
Protesters were allowed into the auction, where they stood quietly with their signs and observed the day's business. The sale saw parcels as small as three acres to 640 acres sold for as little as $11 to more than $500 acre.
The state's first lands and minerals auction was in January, with 8,714 acres leased for oil and gas drilling. About half of those acres lie alongside the Boise, Payette and Snake river beds.
After Thursday's auction, Idaho now has nearly 98,000 state acres leased for oil and gas development. Idaho Department of Lands reported in a press release the average bid was $76 per acre. The highest lease, of 141 sold for $505 an acre.
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?