Wenonah Hauter

Protect Public Lands From Becoming Private Profit

When you imagine your family vacation, do drilling rigs or the roar of wastewater tankers rumbling down a forest service road immediately come to mind? Unfortunately, with the Obama administration’s proposed rules for drilling and fracking on federal lands, our treasured national lands may begin to resemble this grim image.

In response to this proposed rule, 276 environmental and consumer organizations, including Americans Against Fracking coalition partners and allies 350.org, Berks Gas Truth, Center for Biological Diversity, CREDO Action, Democracy for America, Environmental Action, Daily Kos, Food & Water Watch, MoveOn, Progressive Democrats of America, The Post Carbon Institute and United For Action took a stand. In August 2013, this coalition delivered nearly 650,000 comments to Bureau of Land Management (BLM), calling for a federal ban on hydraulic fracturing on public lands. Together with groups wanting stricter regulations, more than one million comments were submitted in total.

Now, over a year later, this groundswell of voices has gone unheard and the Obama administration has taken no action. It seems that President Obama has lent his ears to the oil and gas industry, which is drowning out the voices of those who elected him in the first place.

These comments came in the face of an administration that has been decidedly pro-gas. President Obama in recent months has billed himself as a climate leader with his proposed rules on power plants. But these rules do nothing to address the climate impacts of fracking, and even encourage gas development as a means to offset carbon emissions – an inherently flawed strategy considering methane is a byproduct of fracking, which is 87 times as potent as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.

Thirty-eight million acres of BLM-managed land are already under lease, with 3,000 new wells that have been, or will be fracked, threatening the air, water, wildlife and landscapes of surrounding areas. Countless reports and articles have shown us fracking’s detrimental effects; from water contamination to excessive methane emissions. These lands have inherent value to those they were intended to serve, and are not just a cash cow for the industry to exploit. President Obama needs to change course, but we can’t wait for him – the stakes are too high and action must be urgent. Now, we are calling on Congress to introduce legislation to ban fracking for oil and gas on public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management’s mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Its mission is not possible if these lands are rented out to the oil and gas industry to desecrate for its own short-term profits. If the administration does not intend to uphold the mission of the Bureau of Land Management, then this responsibility falls on Congress. Some members of the Senate have spoken out about rampant oil and gas development. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says we can do better than a gas pipeline, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is concerned about the effects of fracking in the Everglades and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) has taken a stand to block natural gas exports. However, we need to see action from these and other members of Congress in the form of a bill to ban fracking on federal lands.

Our treasured lands are at risk. Will the vistas from the arches of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park be marred with towering fracking rigs, the groves of Redwoods in Sequoia National Park be cleared for service roads and the diverse wildlife of the Everglades instead be known for its toxic water? There are over one million voices that don’t intend to condemn our national lands to such a bleak fate, and it’s time for Congress to take a stand by introducing a bill to ban fracking on federal land. The public wants its lands back in its own hands.

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch (foodandwaterwatch.org) Phone 202-683-2500.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2014


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