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National Grassland Defended from Fracking

Guardians Challenges U.S. Forest Service to up Protections for Air, Water, Wildlife on Pawnee National Grassland

Denver, CO—WildEarth Guardians has appealed to safeguard the Pawnee National Grassland from fracking, which threatens to erode clean air, pure water, and thriving fish and wildlife on these unique public lands north of Denver.

“The Pawnee National Grassland is a vital refuge for wildlife, for those who love outdoor recreation along Colorado’s Front Range, and for clean air and water; fracking has no place in this iconic prairie,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “This appeal is about making sure the demands of the oil and gas industry take a backseat to health and integrity of our public lands.”

The Pawnee consists of 300 square miles of publicly owned grasslands that are popular for camping, bird watching, and hiking. The Grasslands contain the Pawnee Buttes, one of the most iconic uplifts of northeastern Colorado. The lands are managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Increasingly, the Pawnee is besieged by fracking. A surge in oil drilling has brought unprecedented industrial development to the region, putting these public lands at extreme risk.

To view pictures of the Pawnee and the onslaught of fracking, click here >>

Last December, the Forest Service proposed a plan that would bar fracking on the surface of the National Grassland. However, the plan would still allow underlying publicly owned minerals to be tapped by industry. Effectively, development would be pushed to the fringes of the Pawnee and continue to degrade the landscape.

354 oil and gas wells would still be drilled and fracked, turning what is now a vital and popular prairie landscape into an oil field.

In an objection filed late yesterday, Guardians challenged this plan and for the Forest Service to adopt stronger safeguards for air and water quality and the region’s fish and wildlife.

According to the Forest Service’s own analysis, the 354 wells slated to be drilled and fracked would continue to foul the region’s skies, threaten clean water with contamination, spew out hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon pollution, and harm fish and wildlife. Even when sited off the Grassland, oil wells will still put the Pawnee at risk.

“Our clean air, our climate, and the integrity of our public lands are still at risk,” said Nichols. “Keeping fracking off our Pawnee National Grassland is critical, but a plan that doesn’t protect our health and our public lands is not a plan that we support.”

The area slated for fracking is also within the Dener Metro/North Front Range “nonattainment” area, a nine-county area that is violating health limits on ozone, the key ingredient of smog.  The Forest Service estimates that ozone-forming pollution will increase by nearly 3,000 tons annually in the area, worsening the region’s smog problem.

Already, 43,000 acres of the Pawnee National Grassland has been leased for fracking, and 62 wells have been developed. In the late 1990’s, the Forest Service estimated that only 10 wells would be drilled on the Grassland over a 20-year period, but with the boom in shale gas and oil drilling using horizontal fracking techniques, the Pawnee has increasingly been in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry. 

To download a map of the Pawnee National Grassland showing existing oil and gas wells and leases, click here >>

The Forest Service has 45 days to respond to WildEarth Guardians’ objection. 


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