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Climate Denial at U.S. Interior Department Challenged

Agency Opening Door for Fossil Fuel Development in Western U.S., Turning its Back on Carbon Reductions

Denver—Attacking the U.S. Interior Department’s claim that “there is a substantial amount of professional disagreement and uncertainty” over climate change, WildEarth Guardians appealed to halt plans to open up more than 41,000 acres of public lands in the American West to fracking.

“Climate denial at the Interior Department is fueling a fracking rush on our public lands and undermining our nation’s efforts to rein in carbon pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director. “This blatant rejection of settled science is a dangerous and distressing sign of the lengths the Interior Department is going to cater to the fossil fuel industry.” 

In appeals filed this week, Guardians challenged plans by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management to lease more than 15,000 acres of public lands in southern Utah and 36,000 acres of public lands along the Front Range of Colorado for fracking. Citing demand from industry, the agency intends to auction off the lands in May of this year.

The appeals target the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to address the climate impacts of expanded fracking on public lands and to assess the costs of increased carbon. In response to comments from WildEarth Guardians, the agency claimed:

“there is a substantial amount of professional disagreement and uncertainty as to what impacts greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have on climate....”    

The statements come not only as President Obama chided climate deniers as “denying the facts” and as Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, said carbon reductions should inform decisions within the agency.

Estimates indicate more than 300,000 tons of carbon would be unleashed annually from development of just these leases. Cumulatively, however, estimates indicate total greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas drilling and fracking on public lands amounts to hundreds of millions of tons every year.

These estimates do not even take into account the greenhouse gas emissions released when oil and gas is processed, refined, and ultimately burned.

The Bureau of Land Management’s resistance to addressing the climate impacts of oil and gas development on public lands comes even as tools are available to quantify such impacts.  Scientists and other federal agencies have even developed precise carbon cost numbers.  For example, the cost of a ton of carbon in 2015 is reported to be as high as $116.

A report by WildEarth Guardians in 2014 found that the costs of carbon emissions from oil and gas produced from public lands could be $50 billion or more. 

Rather than address the carbon costs of oil and gas drilling and fracking, the Bureau of Land Management instead rejected such analysis, claiming it is “misleading.”

“There is nothing misleading about climate change or the reality that it is costing us dearly,” said Nichols. “While the Interior Department has talked a good talk on climate, the reality is that they’re not walking the walk. By opening the door for more fracking, Interior is singlehandedly undermining progress in reducing carbon and putting our future at greater risk than ever.”

Responses to WildEarth Guardians’ appeals are likely to come in early May.


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