Despite protests from environmental groups, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Denver leased 90,000 acres of public land for oil and gas development (fracking) in Colorado on Thursday. When developed, these new leases could dump between 1 million and 8 million metric tons of additional carbon per year into the atmosphere, using the BLM’s methods. A better use of these public lands might be leases for solar or wind energy development.
Dozens of protesters with giant puppets, polar bears, oil derricks, signs and banners staged a climate rally Thursday outside of the BLM’s oil and gas lease sale in Lakewood, Colorado, urging President Obama to “keep it in the ground.” That rally was part of a national movement calling on the president to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans. Such a move would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere according to a report by EcoShift consulting.
“We’re out of time for delays, half-measures and ‘all of the above’ energy policies,” said Micah Parkin of 350 Colorado at the rally. “If we are to avoid the most severe global climate impacts by keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, President Obama and our other national leaders will have to make more brave decisions like rejecting the KXL pipeline. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground — starting with public lands — and transition rapidly to a clean, renewable energy future.”
Groups participating in Thursday’s rally included 350 Colorado, 350.org, Audubon Society of Greater Denver, Be the Change, Center for Biological Diversity, Coloradans Against Fracking, Direct FRACKtion, Earth Guardians, Food & Water Watch, Frack-Free CO, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Rights for All People, Ruckus Society, Save the Colorado, Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter, Wall of Women Colorado, WildEarth Guardians and others.
More than 400 organizations have joined the “Keep it in the Ground” movement. In its news release, the Center for Biological Diversity indicated that the auction perpetuates a conflict between the administration’s climate goals and its “all of the above” energy policy by leasing federal fossil fuels that should be considered “unburnable” in the context of global carbon budgets. Federal fossil fuels — those that the president controls — should be the first taken off the table to mitigate climate damage.
Recently the Obama administration cancelled drilling leases in the Arctic. Then, the president denied the permit application for the Keystone XL pipeline on the grounds that it would hinder efforts to combat climate change. “Because ultimately,” Obama said, “ 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.” Last week Senator Merkley (D-OR) and others introduced legislation to end new and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases.
Given low global oil prices and the resulting downturn in drilling activity in Colorado, it is hard to understand the urgency for granting these leases now. After a huge boom in fracking activity in the United States, low oil prices have made development of many fracking wells unprofitable. As a result, many existing leases are not being developed and existing wells are being shut down.
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 makes up about a third of the U.S. land area. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.
It would seem logical that if these lands are going to be used for generating energy, they should be used for clean, renewable energy and not development of carbon-producing fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. In the government, it is not uncommon for the right hand not to care what the left hand is doing. Perhaps all branches of government need to get on board the clean energy train.