Another lease sale, another challenge
One of the overriding sentiments to emerge from the Thompson Divide controversy is that some places are too special to drill.
We’ve heard that particular turn of phrase come into play in conjunction with efforts to protect the Roan Plateau and the Thompson Divide from oil and gas development — especially from public officials who had to defend the BLM’s decision to cancel leases.
But it’s not really reflective of the conservation groups that adhere to a “keep it in the ground” mindset. The “too special” argument suggests that drilling might be OK elsewhere, but groups like the Center for Biological Diversity make no secret of wanting to end fossil fuel leasing on public land.
Any drilling operation is unreasonable, according to the conservationist mindset, by virtue of the fact that it results in greenhouse gas emissions. Never mind that the nation’s emissions profile has remained virtually unchanged over the last three years, thanks in large part to the displacement of coal in favor of cleaner-burning natural gas in power generation.
“It’s irresponsible for the BLM to issue new fossil fuel leases on public lands without considering the impact that extracting and burning these new sources of dirty energy will have on the climate,” a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release in response to a BLM plan to offer 20,000 acres of oil and gas leases, including 16,000 in Mesa County.
The climate angle is just one of many concerns raised by conservation groups. In protesting the sale, they’re citing potential impacts to three plants listed as protected species and protected by the Endangered Species Act, the amount of water involved with hydraulic fracturing and the potential for floods to damage oil and gas infrastructure — even whether injection wells to dispose wastewater could cause earthquakes that threaten the integrity of the Vega Reservoir dam.
That’s not to say that none of these are legitimate concerns. But it’s clear that these groups are willing to pull any combination of levers to stop the leases.
Perhaps most discouraging is the notion that the BLM improperly relies on broad-scale analysis in resource-management plans of its local field offices, which is inadequate to address site-specific issues.
Katie Stevens, the manager for the BLM’s Grand Junction field office, recently wrote in an op-ed that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act “doesn’t include cookbook approaches — it still relies on individual people in government to be good stewards and puzzle out ... complicated tradeoffs.”
It seems disingenuous to celebrate the BLM’s wisdom in canceling leases in the Thompson Divide and simultaneously claim the agency doesn’t know what it’s doing elsewhere.
Ultimately, the protests will be vetted. They’re an important part of the system, so we don’t begrudge conservation groups for lodging them. It’s the tension they bring to the debate that helps us identify where reasonable development can or should occur on federal land.
But the BLM is just following the law. If these groups want to stop leasing, they need to go to Congress.