Groups to Obama: Keep It in the Ground, cancel Colorado oil and gas sale

Groups to Obama: Keep It in the Ground, cancel Colorado oil and gas sale

DENVER, COLO. — Local, regional and national organizations sent a letter today to President Obama calling on him to “keep federal fossil fuels in the ground” and cancel the Bureau of Land Management’s federal oil and gas lease sale slated for Nov. 12 in Lakewood, Colo., owing to concerns over runaway greenhouse gas pollution and the climate crisis.

“We’re out of time for delays, half-measures and ‘all of the above’ energy policies,” said Micah Parkin of 350 Colorado. “If we are to avoid the most severe global climate impacts by keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, President Obama and our other national leaders will have to make more brave decisions like rejecting the KXL pipeline. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground — starting with public lands — and transition rapidly to a clean, renewable energy future.”

The BLM will auction to private fossil fuel corporations more than 90,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in central and eastern Colorado, including deposits beneath the Pawnee National Grassland. Despite a worsening climate crisis, the agency authorized the sale. The Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians administratively protested the sale (here and here).

“A couple of years back, our research showed only about 30 percent of the federal leases in Colorado are in production mode,” said Phillip Doe with Be the Change. “There is no need to give more of the country to the oil industry. Is it too much to expect the government save a little public land for the public?”

Today’s letter states that the sale perpetuates a conflict between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy by leasing federal fossil fuels that should be considered “unburnable” in the context of global carbon budgets. It notes that climate science makes clear that a majority of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to avoid dangerous warming, and the serious consequences of drought, severe wildfires, extreme weather events and global sea-level rise. Federal fossil fuels — those that the president directly controls — should be the first taken off the table.

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease worsens the climate crisis,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The president can’t have it both ways: Fighting climate change requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground. He can start to do that right now by stopping this new federal fossil fuel lease sale in Colorado.”

In September more than 400 organizations and leaders working on the “Keep It in the Ground” campaign delivered a letter calling on President Obama to end new federal fossil fuel leasing following reports that doing so would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the ground, and that the president has the legal authority to do so now, without Congress.

“The disconnect between President Obama’s climate policy and his energy policy couldn’t be more stark,” said Tim Ream with WildEarth Guardians. “Back in DC, he talks a good game on clean energy, but in Colorado it’s still drill, baby, drill.”

“President Obama cannot claim climate leadership while continuing to lease fossil fuels,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “With more fossil fuels leased than can be burned to avoid climate catastrophe, President Obama must put a stop to all new lease sales of public fossil fuels.”

Federal oil and gas leasing contributes significantly to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Existing federal U.S. oil and gas leases will release 20 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution; oil and gas containing up to 89 billion tons — the pollution of driving 1.8 billion cars for a decade — have yet to be leased to industry. Some federal leases, including some sold this month, are given to oil companies for as little as $2 per acre.

“It’s time to stop the corporate giveaway of our public lands,” said Ruth Breech with Rainforest Action Network. “Energy giants Shell, Anadarko and Yates Petroleum are exploiting our most precious resources. Our climate, our health and our future is not for sale.”

“We want President Obama to make public lands part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, based in Colorado. “Grasslands, forests, and other public lands play an important role in absorbing carbon, but instead the fossil fuels extracted and burned from public lands each year emit almost five times more carbon than these lands can absorb. That equation won’t work for our kids and grandkids.”

The groups and members of the public will demonstrate outside of the Bureau of Land Management office should the lease sale go forward. This follows a protest of a lease sale in Wyoming last week. More protests are expected for upcoming lease sales in Salt Lake City, Reno and Washington D.C. this fall. Together they make up hundreds of thousands of acres of publicly owned fossil fuels being transferred to corporate control.

Groups calling on Obama to withdraw this week’s sale include 350 Colorado,, Be the Change, Buckeye Forest Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and WildEarth Guardians.

To download a copy of today’s letter, click here.


The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public lands like national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An August report by EcoShift consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that has not been leased to industry contains up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

In light of harm to the climate, communities and public lands from federal fossil fuel leasing, more than 400 organizations and leaders in September called on President Obama to end federal fossil fuel leasing. They included: Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Michael Mann, Tim DeChristopher, Dr. Stuart Pimm, Dr. Michael Soule, United Auto Workers Union, Unitarian Universalist Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Protect Our Winters,, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, REDOIL, Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and hundreds of others.

Last week Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) announced landmark climate legislation, The Keep It in the Ground Act, that would end new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans and prevent the renewal of some existing non-producing leases.

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to Obama here.

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground here (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels here (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet here.


Micah Parkin, 350 Colorado, (504) 258-1247
Phillip Doe, Be the Change, (303) 949-6986
Ruth Breech, Rainforest Action Network, (415) 238-1766
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414
Tim Ream, WildEarth Guardians, (541) 531-8541
Shelley Silbert, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, (970) 385-9577
Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0729, [email protected]

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