139-square-mile fracking plan in Wyoming prompts legal protest

139-square-mile fracking plan in Wyoming prompts legal protest

Groups call on BLM to cancel massive fossil fuel development that threatens climate, water, Greater Sage Grouse

JACKSON, Wyo.— Conservation groups filed a formal administrative protest on Thursday challenging a massive Bureau of Land Management plan to auction off 139 square miles of publicly owned fossil fuels in Wyoming on Aug. 2. Most of the area, about 100 square miles, is located in habitat for imperiled greater sage grouse. The protest calls for canceling the auction entirely.

“New fossil fuel leases lock in more climate disruption, more air and water pollution, and further declines for the iconic sage grouse,” said My-Linh Le of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Plans that worsen the climate crisis and sage grouse declines aren’t in the public interest. Climate leadership means keeping untapped fossil fuels in the ground, and our public lands are where Obama should start.”

The protest, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Sierra Club, calls on the BLM to halt the auction and all new federal fossil fuel leasing to preserve any chance of averting catastrophic climate disruption. It challenges the Bureau’s failure to adequately analyze the environmental impacts relating to water, sensitive wildlife and greenhouse gas pollution that would result from its decision to auction the fossil fuels.

“We think it’s time for public lands to be part of the solutions to climate change, not part of the problem,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Not only has the BLM failed to analyze impacts of new oil and gas extraction on Wyoming’s water, wildlife and public safety, but new leasing commits us to dangerous climate impacts for decades to come.”

In addition to causing greenhouse gas pollution, the auction and subsequent drilling, fracking and industrialization will fragment and destroy wildlife habitat and threaten imperiled species. Fracking and wastewater injection could pollute air, surface and groundwater and cause harmful earthquakes. The Bureau’s failure to analyze those impacts is raised in the protest. 

The protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to expand his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” rallies opposed to federal fossil fuel auctions have been growing across the country — in Alaska, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Nevada — and have caused some auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

“Every new federal fossil fuel lease is a step in the wrong direction for people and the planet,” said Marissa Knodel with Friends of the Earth. “The American people don’t need another energy sacrifice zone or increases in toxic pollution and climate disruption that threaten their health and safety. What we need is to accelerate a just transition to a clean energy economy by stopping new leasing and keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

Download the protest 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, which 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 beneath them 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 2015 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 have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of 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.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

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

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (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 (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

Download WildEarth Guardians’ formal petition calling on the Department of the Interior to study the climate impacts of the federal oil and gas leasing program and to place a moratorium on new leasing until completed that study is completed. 

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.



My-Linh Le, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7156, [email protected]

Shelley Silbert, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, (970) 385-9577, [email protected]

Marissa Knodel, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0729, [email protected]

Jonathon Berman, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3033, [email protected]  


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