Environmentalists have sued a US agency to try to stop it from allowing oil and gas drilling on a vast stretch of federal land in Nevada, where the government is reversing protections put in place 9 months ago under the Obama administration.
In this 9 December 2014 file photo, protesters rally outside the US Bureau of Land Management in Reno, Nevada, during the auction of oil and gas leases for energy exploration that critics say poses a threat to fish, wildlife, and groundwater. Environmentalists filed a lawsuit in Nevada to block an effort to expand oil and gas drilling on federal land. Two national conservation groups say the Bureau of Land Management is reversing course from policies it enacted in the final weeks of the Obama administration. Credit: AP/Scott Sonner.
The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity say the US Bureau of Land Management illegally failed to consider potential consequences of hydraulic fracturing ranging from harm to the greater sage grouse to contamination of fragile desert water sources and emission of climate-altering greenhouse gases.
The suit filed last week in federal court in Reno seeks an order forcing the bureau to rescind oil drilling leases it sold in June for as low as $2 per acre on three land parcels covering about 9 square miles.
The groups are asking a judge to forbid permits on an additional 103 parcels totaling 296 square miles until the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws they say require a thorough examination of the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing.
“The Trump administration wants to turn public lands into private profits for the fossil fuel industry at the peril of local communities and wildlife,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute in Oakland, California.
President Donald Trump has taken other steps to open up federal lands to energy production, including proposals to eliminate national monuments designated by former President Barack Obama.
Patrick Donnelley, the center’s state director in Nevada, said the drilling leases in Nevada mark the first time the Trump administration has reversed a draft proposal by the previous administration to keep some otherwise unprotected lands off limits to drilling. He says the government is flouting environmental rules “to push their oil and gas agenda.”
Hydraulic fracturing has led to a boom in natural gas production but raised widespread concerns about possible groundwater contamination and even earthquakes. The method uses huge amounts of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from rock formations deep underground.
The lawsuit says it can release carcinogens and other hazardous pollutants into the air and water while emitting massive amounts of methane, a significant driver of climate change.
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