Commentary

Fracking poses major threats to Nevada, even if Thomas Mitchell chooses to ignore them (“Lawsuit falsely claims fracking will be devastating,” Oct. 4, 2017). Those risks are why my organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club are taking legal action.

We’re determined to ensure that the federal government follows the law and fully considers the risks of allowing private industry to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public land.

Both of our organizations are nationwide nonprofits with long histories in Nevada. The Center has been active from our Nevada office in Las Vegas for almost 10 years. Our 12,000 Nevada members and supporters, including hundreds across the rural counties of eastern Nevada, strongly oppose the expansion of oil and gas drilling here. The Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter was formed in Reno in 1956, making it Nevada’s oldest environmental group.

Our lawsuit challenges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s June sale of nearly 200,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Nevada’s Battle Mountain district for fossil fuel development, including fracking. The suit aims to hold the BLM accountable for failing to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a comprehensive evaluation of the environmental impacts of federal actions, like oil and gas development.

The BLM has ignored its legal responsibility to analyze the potential environmental damage to our state from fracking, including water contamination and climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

Fracking has accelerated dramatically in the U.S. as new technologies and potentially toxic chemicals have been employed to increase its efficacy. This has made oil and gas development possible in places with limited fossil fuel resources, like Nevada.

But the BLM has consistently refused to analyze the potential dangers of fracking to Nevada’s water supply, even though fracking been linked to significant drinking water contamination in other parts of the country.

People in northeast Wyoming are able to set fire to the methane-laced water coming out of their taps. Spills and underground migration of toxic oil industry chemicals have contaminated surface and groundwater in states across the country, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.

In 2012, there were 120 well failures in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania, representing some 9 percent of all fracked wells. These well failures potentially allow oil industry contaminants to enter groundwater. Would you take a 9 percent chance of poisoning your water supply so that oil tycoons in Texas can make a few extra bucks?

Water contamination is not the only danger.

Fracking can use millions of gallons of water per well. In the driest state in the Union, that means water would either be pumped from our already-overtaxed aquifers or diverted from our overtaxed rivers.

Fracking and underground disposal of fracking wastewater are also associated with increased seismic activity. Active fracking zones in eastern Colorado have seen a terrifying 1,400 percent increase in annual earthquakes greater than magnitude 3.0 over the past 15 years.

And perhaps most important to many rural Nevadans, oil and gas development has caused widespread and significant declines in big game populations, including mule deer, in places like western Wyoming and northwestern New Mexico.

Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room ― climate change. Human-accelerated climate change from fossil fuel combustion is an indisputable scientific fact. The burning of oil and gas extracted from parcels leased in this auction would result in millions of tons of carbon being emitted into our atmosphere, contributing to the rise in global temperatures.

Yet BLM has consistently refused to analyze any of this, writing off such dangers as “speculation.”

Mr. Mitchell correctly notes the industry’s “lack of interest” in oil and gas development in Nevada. And the results of this lease auction bore that out ― less than 8 percent of the offered acreage was leased. Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, affirmed this in a recent Daily Caller article, stating, “The interest in Nevada is very small.”

But the speculative nature of oil and gas leasing in Nevada has no bearing on whether the BLM must comply with the laws. If geopolitical events conspire to increase the price of oil, Nevada could see hundreds or even thousands of oil wells drilled and fracked. This could cause widespread aquifer contamination and groundwater drawdown, and contribute significantly to climate change.

We filed this lawsuit to protect Nevada’s water, public lands, public health and wildlife, and to safeguard our climate for future generations. We will continue working to ensure that our government obeys the law and comes clean about the significant threats from fracking and oil and gas development.

Would you take a 9 percent chance of poisoning your water supply so that oil tycoons in Texas can make a few extra bucks?

Patrick Donnelly is the Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity. You can email him at pdonnelly@biologicaldiversity.org or find him on Twitter at @bitterwaterblue.

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