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Trump's Drilling Leases on Public Lands Could Lead to 4.7B Metric Tons of Carbon Emissions

Climate
Pumpjacks on Lost Hills Oil Field in California. Arne Hückelheim, Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Conley

A national conservation group revealed Wednesday that President Donald Trump's drilling leases on public lands could lead to the release of more carbon emissions than the European Union contributes in an entire year.


The Wilderness Society estimates that U.S. companies will emit at least 854 million and as much as 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon if they develop leases in public waters and lands.

"Taking into account the potency of shorter-lived climate pollutants like methane, lifecycle emissions resulting from the development of these leases could be as high as 5.2 billion metric tons," the group's new report reads.

The 28 countries in the EU released four billion metric tons in one year, according to the most recent available data.

Regardless of exactly how many leases are put to use by oil and gas companies, the Wilderness Society reports, "These leasing decisions have significant and long-term ramifications for our climate and our ability to stave off the worst impacts of global warming."

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has offered up 378 million acres of public land to oil and gas companies and has sought to overturn the Obama administration's ban on coal leases.

Climate action groups and lawmakers have pushed back against the administration's plans. Earlier this month California Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), saying the federal government's plan to open up more than 725,000 acres across California amounted to an abdication of "our responsibility to protect our residents, our resources, and our right to pursue a future beyond fossil fuels."

In Arizona on Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity was among the conservation groups which sued the Trump administration over its approval of leases on more than 4,000 acres, which they say will threaten wildlife and water in the Coconino Aquifer and Petrified Forest National Park.

The Wilderness Society noted in its report on what it called "Trump's reckless leasing of public lands" that because of the federal government's lack of transparency regarding emissions on federal property, it can only estimate how much carbon dioxide will be released should the leases be developed.

"The federal government cannot manage what it does not measure, yet the Trump administration is actively seeking to suppress disclosure of the full sweep of climate emissions from fossil energy leases," reads the report.

The Trump administration, the Wilderness Society wrote, is currently discouraging BLM field offices from analyzing the potential effects of oil and gas extraction on public lands:

In June 2019, Trump's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released draft guidance on how federal agencies should consider [greenhouse gas] emissions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This guidance essentially allows federal agencies to avoid fully estimating emissions for these leases, enables agencies to skirt accounting for the cumulative effects of emissions across permitted projects, and fails to encourage agencies to identify lower-emitting alternatives.

"As the world works to respond to the dire warning issued last fall by the global climate science body about the pace and scale of greenhouse gas emissions declines needed to avoid catastrophic warming," wrote the Wilderness Society, "the American public cannot even find reliable information about the greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts of how their resources are being put to use."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.