The Curious Case of Anti-Fracking Groups Activity in Nevada

The usual anti-fossil fuel suspects, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), are “searching for water in the desert” with a new lawsuit filed to challenge the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) June sale of oil and gas leases in Nevada, a state with barely any oil and gas activity to speak of. This is a trending strategy for anti-fracking groups to target similar states with virtually zero oil and natural gas production like Vermont and Maryland as places to ban fracking.

Just how much oil and gas activity is there in Nevada? The Associated Press reported on the state of Nevada’s unconventional oil and gas activity to-date:

“Only about 20 fracking permits have ever been issued in Nevada and only seven wells have been drilled – five of those in 2014 and one most recently last year, said Richard Perry, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals Commission on Mineral Resources.”

With such low oil and gas activity, it’s surprising how much anti-fossil fuel activism has recently bubbled up in Nevada. Earlier this year, an anti-fracking bill failed in the state legislature. Of course, the bill was backed by groups with financial ties to California billionaire Tom Steyer.

With the Nevada legislature out until 2019, anti-fossil fuel groups are chasing down anti-fracking opportunities like a weary traveler after a mirage in the desert – this time by suing the BLM for “sidestepping” the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) claiming BLM didn’t “adequately evaluate the effects of fracking in and near Nevada’s rare wetlands.”

CBD claims in its press release that:

“BLM failed to consider the consequences of oil drilling in the area, from contamination of critical desert water sources to emission of climate-altering greenhouse gases.”

These “Keep It In the Ground” groups keep on denying science.

Several studies have concluded that fracking is not a major threat to drinking water. After five years of research, the U.S. EPA released its final study earlier this year on fracking and groundwater and found no evidence of widespread contamination. As for greenhouse gases, EPA released its 2017 final Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the data clearly shows that methane emissions from both natural gas and petroleum systems have declined significantly since 1990. These emissions also decreased from 2014 to 2015 – at a time when natural gas production hit record highs. U.S. carbon emissions have fallen 14 percent since 2005, reductions expert after expert have largely credited to increased natural gas use.

CBD also states in its press release that its argument is based on the following:

“The BLM sidestepped the National Environmental Protection Act in neglecting to update its environmental assessment for the sale, the lawsuit argues. Most concerning, the outdated assessment used did not adequately evaluate the effects of fracking in and near Nevada’s rare wetlands.”

On June 15, 2017, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported on the lack of interest in Nevada’s BLM auction from oil and gas producers:

“The federal Bureau of Land Management received bids on just three of 106 parcels of public land it offered for oil and gas leases during a quarterly auction Wednesday that drew protests from conservation groups. Of the 196,000 acres on the auction block in Eureka, Lander and Nye counties, fewer than 5,800 acres drew competitive bids.”

The “lack of interest” by oil and gas producers seemed to have left the anti-fossil fuel groups who protested the sale with disappointment. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported on the reaction by WildEarth Guardians:

“The results — or lack thereof — left environmental advocates scratching their heads. ‘We’re glad the whole bunch didn’t sell … but it raises questions about what the hell the BLM is doing.’ At least some taxpayer money was spent to study and prepare the parcels for sale, but all that funding and effort ‘seems to have gone to waste.’”

Wait a minute, so Sierra Club and CBD’s lawsuit is based on the claim that the “BLM sidestepped” NEPA and that BLM used an “outdated assessment” to evaluate the “effects of fracking in and near Nevada’s rare wetlands” – yet another anti-fossil fuel group, WildEarth Guardians, tells the Las Vegas Review Journal that money was in fact spent to study and prepare parcels for the June lease sale.

These “Keep It In the Ground” groups are really contradicting one another. Despite the fact that these anti-fossil fuel groups aren’t on the same page, Sierra Club and CBD claims are nevertheless false. The BLM website makes available to the public the “Finding of No Significant Impact” document, which is likely the “study” WildEarth Guardians reportedly made reference to in the Las Vegas Review Journal’s news findings back in June. NEPA was in fact taken into account by BLM when the lease sale decision was made. The BLM explains in the lease sale documents that a NEPA analysis is not to be conducted until “leases enter into development stage, wetlands and cultural resources would be further addressed through additional project- and site-specific NEPA analysis.”

WildEarth Guardians told the Las Vegas Review Journal:

“Nevada is marginal for oil and gas in the first place. Why is the BLM even trying to sell these leases in the first place?”

Here at Energy in Depth, we couldn’t agree more – Nevada is marginal for oil and gas development, but mineral and property rights are important, as is access to development on public lands. With that said, our question juxtaposed to WildEarth Guardian – we want to know why “Keep It in the Ground” groups are trying to ban fracking in Nevada in the first place?

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