Feds Urged to Ban Fracking in Eastern Colorado

Grassroots activists, artists and conservation groups submitted formal comments on August 3 calling on the Bureau of Land Management to prohibit new leasing of publicly owned fossil fuels and new hydraulic fracturing in its upcoming resource management plan for more than 6 million acres in eastern Colorado. Under the plan, the agency projects a potential 2,400 percent increase in the number of active federal oil and gas wells — from 543 to 13,041 — between 2011 and 2030 within the planning area.


“Expanding fossil fuel development in the face of the climate crisis is backward, dangerous federal policy,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The welfare of future generations depends on our generation acting now to keep fossil fuels safely in the ground. Our publicly owned fossil fuels, like those in BLM’s plan, should be the first taken off the table.”

The plan will govern management of publicly owned fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — across 6.6 million acres. The area it covers includes more than 5 million acres of federally owned fossils that have yet to be leased to private industry for extraction, as well as nearly 3.9 million acres of fossil fuels under public lands, forests and grasslands. It spans eastern Colorado and Front Range cities including Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and includes oil and gas deposits near communities and in watersheds like South Park that are critical for recreation, wildlife and drinking water. 

“I’ve photographed the extraordinary landscapes of eastern Colorado for 40 years. Sleeping under the Pawnee Buttes surrounded by June wildflowers has been every bit as peaceful as snoozing in a Colorado mountain wilderness or climbing a fourteener,” said Colorado nature photographer John Fielder. “But the natural beauty of Colorado’s Great Plains is now threatened by BLM’s plan spanning almost 7 million of eastern Colorado’s 36 million acres. It could open these precious lands to even more oil and gas fracking. It’s time for Colorado to show this industry the door and get back to selling blue sky, clean air and water, canyons and wildflowers with the recreation and tourism industries.”

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Pink locoweed grows profusely in the sandy soils around the Pawnee Buttes, two prominent buttes located within the Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County, of northeastern Colorado. Rising approximately 300 feet above the surrounding plains, the buttes are erosional remnants left standing in isolation as the surrounding High Plains surface has gradually worn away. (image: John Fielder)

The coalition, which includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, 350 Colorado, Colorado Progressive Coalition and internationally acclaimed photographer John Fielder, is urging a prohibition on new oil, gas and coal leasing and hydraulic fracturing to prevent water and air pollution, impacts to neighborhoods and communities, industrialization of public lands and vast greenhouse gas pollution. 

“The BLM should reject fracking as part of the Eastern Resource Management plan in order to protect invaluable drinking water resources such as the South Platte River Basin, which supplies drinking water to 40 percent of Denver and millions of Coloradans,” said Lauren Petrie, a Colorado organizer with Food & Water Watch. “To advance a resource management plan that does not expressly prohibit fracking would be irresponsible and negligent on behalf of BLM given the risks to our water supply posed by inevitable leaks, spills and accidents.”

Planning documents provided by the BLM indicate that up to 13,041 new wells could be drilled in the area between 2012 and 2030, most of which would be hydraulically fractured or fracked. In 2011 there were 543 wells on federal oil and gas in the planning area. Over 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 47 million barrels of oil could be extracted, threatening vast pollution, industrialization and greenhouse gas pollution.

“Low-income communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution from fossil fuel development,” said Mike Roque, executive director of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. “We call upon the BLM to do the right thing.”

The plan comes amidst growing regional and national controversy over the impacts of federal fossil fuel leasing to communities, public lands and climate. An analysis this year by the Climate Accountability Institute for the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth found that federal fossil fuel caused about one-quarter of U.S. fossil fuel emissions and 3 percent to 4 percent of global fossil fuel emissions between 2003 and 2014.

“Allowing more federal fossil fuel leasing would just be kicking the decarbonization can down the road,” said Micah Parkin, executive director of 350 Colorado. “It’s time for our federal government to get serious about the climate crisis, and that means keeping our federal fossil fuels safely in the ground.”

Download a copy of the comments here.

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