Courts should uphold BLM’s right to protect our health and our lands

The Wilderness Society joined in a legal intervention this week aimed at defending the BLM’s mandate to protect us from needless impacts of energy development. 

Photo by Simon Fraser University, flickr.

The Bureau of Land Management is charged with ensuring that water, wildlife and wilderness are protected when permitting harmful activities like oil and gas drilling on our public lands.

Unfortunately the oil and gas industry and a few western states have sued in an attempt to erode the BLM’s right to best manage our shared federal resources. That’s why The Wilderness Society joined in a legal intervention this week aimed at defending the federal agency's mandate to protect us from needless impacts of energy development.   

Six conservation groups – the Sierra Club, Earthworks, The Wilderness Society, Conservation Colorado Education Fund, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Resource Advocates –  are seeking to intervene in a case filed in Wyoming that challenges the BLM’s newest rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects millions of gallons of fluids (including toxic chemicals) into the ground.

The BLM’s rules to ensure oil and gas wells don’t leak and managing the associated waste have not been updated since 1988 despite advancements in technology, newly identified better practices, and the growth in the use of fracking. As stewards of our public lands the BLM can’t be an absentee landlord and must be able to exercise its authority to manage oil and gas operations – where they occur and how they occur –  from spills to harmful emissions. The public expects the highest standard of care will be taken to protect these places owned by all of us.

A Hart Research poll this past year found that twice as many voters (58 percent to 28 percent) agree that “protecting public lands and natural places from over development” is a higher priority for the federal government than “opportunities for oil and gas drilling.”  68% believe we need a balanced energy policy that meets our needs for energy independence while better protecting public health, our national public lands, and clean drinking water.

Public opinion and the law are on the BLM’s side.

When it comes to public lands, hydraulic fracturing is being used for the vast majority of wells. For the first time, the BLM is requiring oil and gas companies to take extra protective measures, monitor and report on their hydraulic fracturing operations on public lands, and  to disclose the chemicals used in fracking fluid.

These federal rules are being challenged despite the BLM’s clear legal authority and obligation. The BLM’s rules are an important step forward and we believe Congress can, and should, help by closing the remaining loopholes preventing effective management of the inherent risks posed by drilling.  

While states also have an important role to play in managing oil and gas development, the BLM should be entitled to do its job. We believe the law is on the BLM’s side and are seeking to support the agency in continuing to fulfill its mission.

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