A federal district judge ruled Friday that the Bureau of Land Management violated the law when it made 80 billion tons of coal available for leasing and opened up more than 8 million acres for oil and gas development in the Powder River Basin without first assessing the environmental risks or considering any alternatives.
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Judge William Orrick of the U.S. District Court for Northern California ruled Thursday that Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) decision to suspend core provisions of the 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule was "untethered to evidence."
The Trump administration's $1 billion budget request for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeks $66.7 million for the Wild Horse and Burro Management program and a continued push to eliminate annual appropriations bill riders that prohibit the sale or killing of the federally protected animals.
Congress has yet to act on the administration's 2018 budget request, which also requested lifting the appropriations riders.
by Jessica Corbett
Despite protests from conservationists, local tribe leaders, Democratic lawmakers and even the United Nations' expert on Indigenous rights, at 6 a.m. on Friday the Trump administration will allow citizens and companies to start staking claims on sections of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah so the new stakeholders can conduct hard rock mining on the formerly protected lands.
The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Reno, the Associated Press reported. It claims that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws by approving the removal of nearly 10,000 mustangs over 10 years in a 4,900-square-mile expanse of federal rangeland near the Nevada-Utah border.
In a win Wednesday for oil and gas-patch communities and taxpayers, a procedural vote failed in the Senate, preventing a Congressional Review Act resolution from nullifying the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Methane Waste Rule. The vote to proceed to debate on the resolution failed, 49–51. This rule is a common sense standard to limit wasteful methane pollution from oil and gas operations on public lands.
This week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which operates more than 200 million acres of public land, made a statement by changing the banner image on their website from a vast mountain range to a massive coal seam in Wyoming—staking an obvious claim in the Trump administration's campaign to bring coal and other industry jobs back to the U.S.
The U.S. holds more than 600 million acres of stunning public lands in trust for the American public. These beloved places, ranging from the granite spires of the Black Hills National Forest to the mystical Mojave National Preserve, are home to diverse native wildlife, inspire wonder in people from around the world who visit them and provide clean air, clean water and unsurpassed recreation opportunities to our communities.
Drilling has taken place on federal lands for years, with more than 100,000 wells in existence. In 2015, the Interior Dept. issued new standards aimed at making the process safer, including stricter and higher design standards for wells and waste fluid storage facilities to mitigate risks to air, water and wildlife. Companies would also be required to publicly disclose chemicals used in fracking.
Scientists Link #Fracking to Explosion That Severely Injured Texas Family: EcoWatch https://t.co/jRigmTiYjc #environment— EcoInternet (@EcoInternet)1489181842.0
However, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl blocked the Obama rule in June after accepting the argument from energy companies and several states that federal regulators lack congressional authority to set rules for fracking.
The Obama administration appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit, but the rule could be killed for good. The Trump administration said in court filings Wednesday it is withdrawing from the lawsuit.
Justice Dept. lawyers representing Interior and the Bureau of Land Management asked the court to "continue the oral argument and hold these appeals in abeyance pending a new rulemaking" on the issue.
"As part of this process, the Department has begun reviewing the 2015 Final Rule (and all guidance issued pursuant thereto) for consistency with the policies and priorities of the new Administration," the motion reads. "This initial review has revealed that the 2015 Final Rule does not reflect those policies and priorities."
Neal Kirby of the Independent Petroleum Association of America praised the withdrawal of the rule, calling it "unnecessary, duplicative and would further drive away independent producers from federal lands."
"Every energy-producing area has different needs and requirements, which is why the states are far more effective at regulating hydraulic fracturing than the federal government," he said.
Many environmental advocates felt that the 2015 rule was already too lenient, but the Trump administration's latest action could be even more worrisome to fracking opponents.
New Fracking Rules on Public Lands ‘A Giveaway to Oil and Gas Industry,’ Advocates Say via @EcoWatch: http://t.co/IjEKb9vxY6— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1426874604.0
"This disturbing decision highlights Trump's desire to leave our beautiful public lands utterly unprotected from oil industry exploitation," said Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Backing away from these modest rules is doubly dangerous given the administration's reckless plans to ramp up fracking and drilling on public lands across America."
Other environmental organizations spoke out against the announcement.
"Today's news demonstrates the degree to which Secretary Zinke and the Trump administration are in the pocket of the oil and gas industry," said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman.
Earthworks policy director Lauren Page said: "By moving to overturn these common-sense protections, the Trump administration is positioning itself against the disclosure of toxic chemicals, protecting clean water and preserving our public land."
Groundwater contamination is one of the biggest concerns about unconventional oil and natural gas production. While the industry maintains the safety of the process, in December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its highly anticipated final report identifying cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.
"With [Wednesday's] decision, Trump is making it clear that he thinks we need more fracking operations contaminating our drinking water, causing earthquakes and polluting our environment, not less," Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director Lena Moffitt said. "The Sierra Club will continue to defend this rule, ensuring that our publicly-owned lands remain protected from fracking and Donald Trump."
President Trump has plans to open up federal lands for more energy development. As a candidate, Trump campaigned on a promise to "unleash America's $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves."
Big Oil Cheers as Trump Plans to Open National Parks for Drilling https://t.co/25OEh4PTFx @HuffPostGreen @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1484269516.0
He accused President Obama of "denying millions of Americans access to the energy wealth sitting under our feet" by restricting leasing and banning new coal extraction.
Incidentally, the actions of the current administration go against the sentiments of the majority of Americans, who are opposed to fracking and drilling of public lands, according to a new Gallup poll.
The poll, released on Tuesday, determined that 53 percent of Americans oppose fracking as a means of increasing the production of natural gas and oil in the U.S. Only 46 percent support for opening up federal lands for oil exploration, compared to 65 percent who favored it in 2014.
"Americans Tilt Toward Protecting Environment, Alternative Fuels"Gallup
The Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans support spending more government money on energy alternatives such as solar and wind power. About two-thirds of Americans favor more strongly enforcing federal environmental regulations and setting higher emissions standards for business and energy.
Public opposition to fracking has grown in recent years, as counties and cities across the country are passing resolutions and ordinances to ban the practice.
Even states are getting behind the action. The Maryland House of Delegates passed a milestone bill earlier this month that would ban fracking statewide.
Fracking opponents are now urging the Maryland Senate to pass the same legislation. On Thursday morning, a group of protesters‚ including including faith leaders and western Maryland residents, barred the entrance to the State House in a peaceful act of civil disobedience. Thirteen were arrested.
.@EmilyWurth1 of @foodandwater one of 13 #DontFrackMD activists arrested calling on @MDSenate to pass fracking ban.… https://t.co/3Dqt4S8W3n— Thomas Meyer (@Thomas Meyer)1489675157.0
"As stewards of God's creation, United Methodists are opposed to hydraulic fracturing because of the serious consequences for the environment, including damage to water and geological stability," said Rev. Julie Wilson, chair for the Board of Church and Society for the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. "We support a ban on fracking."
Garrett County in western Maryland is likely to be the first area targeted if fracking is allowed. The demonstrators say that fracking would threaten the area's local economy, which relies heavily on tourism and agriculture.
The first few folks calling on the @MDSenate to #banfracking as they were removed by police from the State House en… https://t.co/NwKNFlvKOn— Rianna Eckel (@Rianna Eckel)1489678004.0
"Western Maryland would be targeted first by fracking, and western Marylanders overwhelmingly know that we can never allow it to take place," said Ann Bristow, Garrett County resident and member of Gov. O'Malley's Marcellus shale advisory commission.
"The more we learn about fracking, the more we know we need a ban. Our water, health and climate are far more important than short term gain for the natural gas industry. Once free of worrying about fracking in Maryland, we can all turn our attention to a renewable and sustainable future."
Cleanup efforts are underway after a failed Chevron Corporation pipeline released about 4,800 gallons of oil into an intermittent stream on public land in northwestern Colorado and killed some wildlife.
The breach happened on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and was first detected on March 5 by a Chevron consultant. The pipeline was shut down after discovery of the leak and the oil is now trapped in a berm and siphon dam in a dry ravine, according to the Associated Press.
As it happens, the leak occurred around the same time that the conservation group Center for Western Priorities found that Chevron was behind 31 reported spills in Colorado last year, ranking the energy corporation as the fourth highest oil and gas spiller in the state.
2016 Colorado Oil and Gas Toxic Release TrackerCenter for Western Priorities
Chevron spokeswoman Erika Conner said that while there are no public health concerns after the March 5 incident, some animals have died. Two mallard ducks covered in oil were found at the spill site and were transferred to Colorado Parks and Wildlife on March 5 but died the day after. Two other small birds and several mice have also been found dead by cleanup crews.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been notified," Conner told The Daily Sentinel. "We regret the impact the release has had on the affected animals and are working diligently to avoid any additional impacts to wildlife."
Colorado Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Hartman told the AP that the failed section of pipeline is being analyzed to determine a cause.
The spill involved a 6-inch-diameter oil gathering pipeline, BLM spokesman David Boyd told The Daily Sentinel.
In its recent report, the Center for Western Priorities calculated available data from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and determined there were 509 reported spills in 2016—that's more than one a day in Colorado.
There have already been 220 'significant' pipeline spills already this year. https://t.co/8f5iciNgkc via @EcoWatch— NRDC (@NRDC)1478964421.0
The number of spills in 2016 are less than the 615 reported spills and incidents in 2015, reflecting the decrease in drilling activity. However, the group expects spills to increase as the state ramps up oil and gas production.
"As drilling and production increase in Colorado—which is expected as the price of oil and gas may increase in the coming years—we also expect to see spills increase," the report said. "Monitoring these incidents help to inform Coloradans about the impacts of oil and gas development within the state."
In response to the report, Chevron said in a statement that it "aggressively manages the risk of spills through a rigorous ongoing asset integrity program wherever we operate."
"For example, Chevron has undertaken a comprehensive, multi-year, multi-million-dollar project to streamline and upgrade facilities and systems at our largest Colorado asset in Rangely," the company continued. "The program will continue through 2018. To date, approximately 11 miles of pipes have been removed from service."
According to the Associated Press, oil and gas companies from Texas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado and Oklahoma forked over $1.7 million for the right to explore parts of Wayne National Forest for drilling operations. Lessees still need to obtain a permit before any drilling can start.
The online auction took place on Dec. 13 with the minimum acceptable bid for as little as $2 per acre. The
Columbus Dispatch reported that offers made by the 22 registered bidders ranged from the $2 minimum to a high of $5,806.12 per acre.
Opponents of the federal auction, cited concerns over public health impacts and effects on air and water quality, and submitted more than 17,000 comments to the BLM during its 30-day comment period.
Rise of Fracking Wastewater Injections in Ohio Sparks Fears of Earthquakes, Water Contamination https://t.co/hXGv3uIIRe @DontFrackNY @ukycc— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1457485341.0
"Public lands are for the people, not for the benefit of Big Oil and Gas," Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement last month. "Drilling for oil and gas means more fracking, and fracking means poisoning our air and water, and threatening the health of our communities and our environment. At a time when clean energy like solar and wind is proving to be safest, healthiest and most cost-effective way to power our country, it's high time we recognized that we need to leave dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas in the ground."
The BLM reportedly received 100 "valid" complaints but they were all denied by the agency on Monday and the auction moved forward.
Nathan Johnson, an Ohio Environmental Council attorney who helped file a protest on behalf of conservation groups, told the Dispatch that the BLM failed to address new information about the size of well pads and pipelines that come with large-scale fracking projects.
"Once they've made the decision to lease, that's the ballgame for them," he said.
Feds to Auction Off Ohio's Only National Forest to #Fracking https://t.co/ursmUIzujN @MarkRuffalo @joshfoxfilm @FrackAction @NoFrackOhio— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1478104592.0
The protest letter also states that the BLM did not adequately address the potential impacts from the oil and gas leasing on threatened or endangered species, including the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, fanshell, pink mucket pearly mussel, sheepnose mussel and snuffbox mussel.
"The government's plan is remarkably shortsighted in its failure to consider the full extent of fracking and wastewater disposal that could occur throughout the forest," Wendy Park, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "Water quality and wildlife will suffer regardless of where these activities occur."
Just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its widely anticipated final report on fracking confirming that the controversial drilling process does impact drinking water. The report is a stunning reversal of its misleading draft assessment that stated fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
Final @EPA Study Confirms #Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water https://t.co/8J118OT1Nw @MarkRuffalo @joshfoxfilm @Earthworks @FrackAction— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1481660493.0
In addition to allowing fracking on public lands, Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 554 last week, which will freeze renewable energy mandates for another two years if Gov. John Kasich signs the bill. More than 25,000 clean energy jobs are at risk.
A two-year freeze was enacted when
Gov. Kasich signed SB 310 on June 13, 2014. HB 554 now seeks to extend that freeze, making renewable energy targets voluntary for utilities. Ohio is the only state in the nation that has frozen its renewable energy mandates.
By Caroline Mosley
A new federal rule seeks to curb significant waste and benefit our nation by reducing the output of one of the largest contributors to global warming—methane gas.
Oil and gas wells on public lands spew methane pollution into our atmosphere. WildEarth Guardians / Flickr
The new rule aims to reduce natural gas waste and its associated methane pollution from all oil and gas operations on lands the BLM leases to oil and gas companies for drilling.
If implemented correctly, over several years the BLM rule is expected to reduce the waste of natural gas from federal oil and gas operations by more than 40 percent.
Will the Rule Last Under Trump?
It will be difficult, but not impossible, for the next administration and Congress to undo the progress made on methane pollution. This rule has broad support across the political spectrum because of its immense economic benefits, not to mention preventing natural gas waste is a bipartisan concern. It is up to us and all Americans to ensure that all future presidents and congresses understand stopping natural gas waste and methane pollution is a promise that needs to be kept.
The Wilderness Society has advocated for this new rule through its years in making, and we will fight for it under the new Trump administration. It will improve outdated, decades-old BLM regulations for oil and gas production on public lands by requiring oil and gas producers to adopt current technology and practices that will reduce waste. Other benefits are limiting climate emissions and air pollution that is harmful to human health.
Natural gas wells in the Roan Plateau (Colorado) are sources of methane pollution that need to be better regulated.Ecoflight / Flickr
Rule Will Help Slow Global Warming
Almost 21 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, can be traced to oil, gas and coal extracted from federal lands. In fact, the oil and gas industry is estimated to be the highest largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.
The BLM rule would help move us toward agreements to cut U.S. methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025, building on 2015 U.S. commitments in Paris to reduce emissions and slow global warming, which were finalized in early November.
Importantly, this rule applies to all oil and gas wells on public lands—those already in operation, as well as new wells. This is crucial, since it is estimated that nearly 90 percent of methane emissions in 2018 will come from sources that existed in 2011.
Provisions of the rule:
1. Limit wasteful venting and flaring of natural gas. Venting natural gas directly into the atmosphere is one of the worst ways to add to climate emissions, yet the practice is widely accepted by oil and gas companies for disposing of uneconomical gas. That's because many companies see it as a short-term advantage to vent gas straight from a well, instead of capturing it for sale later. More than 90 percent of natural gas is made up of methane and methane is a greenhouse gas 84 times more harmful to our climate than carbon dioxide. The rule seeks to limit this polluting practice—except for in emergencies—and reduce the amount of natural gas burned off through flaring, aiming to halve the amount of methane vented and flared from federal oil and gas infrastructure compared to 2013 rates.
2. Stop preventable leaks. Through the rule, operators of oil and gas wells on BLM lands must inspect wells and infrastructure for leaks and repair faulty equipment as the rule is implemented over the course of a few years. This is a reasonable provision, given that affordable technology like infrared cameras makes it easier for operators to more quickly and easily identify leaks, also helping to stop what could be a growing problem for methane emissions.
3. Minimize natural gas waste. The industry must submit a feasible plan to capture excess or unwanted natural gas before a permit to drill is issued. Between 2009 and 2014, it's estimated that enough natural gas was wasted through venting, flaring and leaks to supply 5.1 million homes—about the size of Denver—for a year.
4. Improve royalty rates to give taxpayers a fair share. The rule clarifies how royalty rates will be applied to ensure taxpayers get a fair share on energy development on land they own. In the past, the rate was set at 12.5 percent of the total revenue generated from the sale of federal oil and gas, where it has remained for many years. The rule reinforces BLM's authority to raise the rate as the market and prices changes.
This rule comes at a time when we need to be more accountable for pollution on our public lands—pollution that we recently reported threatens tens of thousands of people in five western states with high drilling activity.
Pollution from natural gas infrastructure threatens those living nearby in Douglas, Wyoming.Kris Mogen / WORC
Let's Continue Fighting Climate Change
Fighting climate change often feels like an uphill battle, but this rule provides steps to curb methane emissions that are a big contributor to global warming. As we move to a new administration, we will continue will work to ensure that these regulations to curb harmful climate emissions are fully implemented. It will be incumbent on the new Department of the Interior to continue to move forward and with important reforms of energy development, like oil and gas, on our shared public lands, and The Wilderness Society will be leading the charge to ensure that progress continues.