DENVER (CN) – Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for leasing public lands to oil and gas developers without properly informing the public of the risks.
In auctions held on Dec. 8, 2016 and December 7, 2017, the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management approved 53 oil and gas lease parcels along Colorado’s western slope. The 45,000 acres public lands would place petroleum fuel operations within half a mile of a K-12 school, impact fragile ecosystems, and contribute to climate change.
The federal lawsuit, filed in Colorado on behalf of the Wilderness Workshop, Center for Biological Diversity, Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper and Sierra Club calls out the federal agencies’ “failure at the planning stage to take a hard look at greenhouse gas pollution and climate change, failure to take a hard look at the impacts of oil and gas development on human health and the environment, and failure to consider a reasonable range of alternatives.”
The National Environmental Policy Act mandates the Bureau of Land Management to disclose project risks to the public and make informed decisions. According to the lawsuit, BLM instead relied on previously published NEPA documents, “which failed to provide any environmental analysis of site-specific impacts prior to making an irreversible and irretrievable commitment of resources.”
The leases would allow for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling in an attempt to recover 66 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas reserves.
“Fracking is a filthy, dangerous business, and dodging environmental analysis puts people and public lands at risk,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “The Trump administration is trying to ignore science, public health and climate change threats to enrich corporate polluters, but it can’t shrug off the law.”
The Colorado River Valley and Grand Junction projects intersect with the towns of De Beque, Molina, and Mesa, Colorado and overlap the Upper Colorado River, White, and Yampa River basins in northwest Colorado which provide water to 40 million people.
“The water of the Colorado River Basin is essential for the 40 million people relying on it. The system is already strained from climate change and overuse,” said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper in a statement. “The last thing we need right now is to add more water hungry, polluting industry without the proper regulatory framework or public process in place to protect this priceless resource.”
The plaintiffs request the court to invalidate the oil and gas leases and to ban drilling new wells until appropriate an environmental assessment is developed. They are represented by Dascalu-Joffe and Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center.