More Than 1 Million Acres Of Public Land Has Been Opened To Fracking — Here’s Our Chance To Save It

Fracking has become one of the more popular means of drilling for natural gas in the United States. It requires large amounts of water, sand and chemicals injected deep underground, at extreme pressure. The mixture is forced within rock formations to create fractures, freeing oil and gas within.

According to the Washington Post, A significant amount of U.S. fossil fuel is extracted from underneath federal lands and waters. In 2017, at least 42 percent of coal, 24 percent of crude oil and 13 percent of natural gas came from mining operations on public lands.

Meanwhile, the extraction and combustion of these fuels accounted for nearly a quarter of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2005 and 2014, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Fractures from fracking can extend directly into surrounding shallow rock formations that contain drinking water supplies.
Source: Adobe Stock/bizoo_n
Fractures from fracking can extend directly into surrounding shallow rock formations that contain drinking water supplies.

Environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch reports that fracking is also responsible for:

  • Fragmenting forests and marring landscapes
  • Competing with farmers for sometimes scarce water supplies
  • Causing thousands of accidents, leaks, fires and spills each year
  • Killing people working at well sites
  • Producing large volumes of toxic and even radioactive waste
  • Pumping hazardous pollutants into the air
  • Risking vital underground sources of drinking water
  • Derailing explosive, mile-long oil trains near cities and along great rivers

And the practice has further been linked to:

  • Inducing swarms of earthquakes
  • Destabilizing the climate on which we all depend
  • Disrupting communities across the country
Fracking well walls can fail, causing fluids to escape into sources of drinking water or groundwater.
Source: Adobe Stock/SobrevolandPatagonia
Fracking well walls can fail, causing fluids to escape into sources of drinking water or groundwater.

There are several scenarios in which fracking can pollute groundwater and local drinking water, Matt Pritchett wrote in the Journal of Environmental Law. It only takes one to create an environmental disaster:

  1. Fractures from fracking can extend directly into surrounding shallow rock formations that contain drinking water supplies
  2. The casing of the drilling tunnel could fail, causing fluids to escape into sources of drinking water or groundwater
  3. Fracturing fluids may be accidentally spilled at the surface, which allows the fluids to contaminate surface water or seep into groundwater

Not only do the fracking fluids contain hazardous chemicals, the wastewater created by hydraulic fracturing activities contains both fracking fluids and trace amounts of naturally occurring but hazardous substances such as heavy metals, chlorides, radioactive materials, Pritchett writes.

An oil field in Colorado.
Source: Adobe Stock/Steve
An oil field in Colorado.

Despite volumes of scientific research and expert opinions explaining the eventuality of fracking, the Trump administration opened up more than 1 million acres of public and Indian lands in California to fracking in 2019.

The risks of fracking to our health and our environment are real,” Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, said at a news conference after the state announced its intention to sue the federal government.

California may have been the first to fight back, but they are not alone in the fight. A coalition of native tribes and other Americans are initiating their own flavors of litigation.

The Trump Administration opened more than 1 million acres of public land to fracking.
Source: Adobe Stock/frank schrader
The Trump Administration opened more than 1 million acres of public land to fracking.

In December 2020, nearly 600 groups, representing millions of Americans, sent the Biden transition team a draft executive order outlining how the next Interior secretary could implement the president’s directive, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Too many federal lease sales have already sacrificed the Greater Chaco region for short-term profit,” said Daniel Tso, Navajo Nation Council delegate and chair of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee. “Local Navajo communities, through little or no ‘meaningful consultation,’ have consistently borne too much of the environmental and social impacts from federal oil and gas leasing. As a result, Navajo Nation communities in northwestern New Mexico have suffered increased coronavirus morbidity, a methane cloud visible from space, and some of the worst air quality in the U.S. There has to be a balance point: people over money. I welcome an end to federal fossil fuel leasing and the necessary transitions to more sustainable economies for the Navajo Nation.”

“The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are being polluted, which is throwing all life out of balance. Rapid expansion by the fossil fuel industry threatens our coastal communities and our ways of living,” said Juan Mancias, tribal chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas. “The Deepwater Horizon disaster showed the damage even a single spill can do to our waters and the environment — it’s time to end new leases for oil and gas.”

Millions of Americans are now protesting leases that grant oil companies to drill on public lands.
Source: Adobe Stock/Perytskyy
Millions of Americans are now protesting leases that grant oil companies to drill on public lands.

The Keep It In the Ground Act by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) could have stopped new federal leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters, but it has laid dormant in congress since 2017.

A new regulation banning fracking on federal land would trigger substantial challenges in court as a violation of federal law that encourages oil and gas development, the Bloomberg reports. Collaboration between the President and Bureau of Land Management under the Department of the Interior could succeed in rewriting drilling and land management plans and applying emergency authority to stop new oil leases and permits, however.

Click below to join others in demanding a ban on fracking on public lands.

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