DALLAS— Conservation groups have filed a formal administrative protest challenging a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction about 5,700 acres of federal fossil fuels in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas for fracking. The protest, filed late Friday, came a day after the U.S. Forest Service, responding to the concerns of conservation groups and local officials, withdrew 31,169 acres of national forest lands in Texas from the same auction, slated for April 20 in Santa Fe, N.M.
“Fracking for federal fossil fuels harms our air, water, land, wildlife and climate,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Failure to notify residents that fracking could destroy their drinking water is yet another reason that President Obama should immediately halt the practice of leasing public lands for oil and gas drilling.”
The protest calls on the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw the remaining parcels from April’s auction because of fracking threats to public health, air, land, wildlife and water — including earthquakes. Some of the parcels, if leased, would enable fracking near and beneath Lewisville Lake, Somerville Lake and Choke Canyon Reservoir, which would threaten to contaminate drinking water for millions of people in Dallas-Fort Worth, Denton, Brenham and Corpus Christi.
The groups say the BLM failed to notify residents in those areas of the potential for fracking to occur beneath those water sources. Citing Lewisville Lake as “one of the nation’s most dangerous” dams, the letter notes the lake is at risk of a breach. BLM failed to analyze whether fracking and wastewater injection could exacerbate this risk, which would cause billions of dollars of property damage and put hundreds of thousands of people in harm’s way.
The protest also says that federal agencies failed to consider the climate change effects of increased federal fossil fuel extraction. A study last year determined that halting new federal fossil fuel auctions would keep up to 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases from polluting the atmosphere and crippling America’s efforts to avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Hundreds of people have turned out for “Keep It in the Ground” protests of BLM fossil fuel auctions across the country in recent months, with several auctions being canceled. Last week, author Terry Tempest Williams purchased parcels in Utah in protest of oil and gas lease sales on public lands.
“We are thrilled that the Forest Service has pulled these parcels from the auction, but there are parcels still on the auction block that the BLM has not properly analyzed, and the public has not even been consulted on them,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. “By filing this protest, our organizations are telling the BLM that our members don’t want fracking under the lakes that provide drinking water to Dallas, Corpus Christi and Brenham, among other cities, and the BLM must properly analyze the water, dam safety, climate, and air quality impacts and share information with the public.”
Separately, the city of Dallas Water Utilities formally requested that 259 acres at Lewisville Lake be removed from the auction, citing concerns over the risk that fracking can cause contamination and exacerbate the dam’s “known safety issues.” In 2008 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam is at “high risk” of failure in an extreme event.
“I would have thought fracking under the drinking water supplies for millions of Texans was a step too outrageous even for Big Oil, but unfortunately I was wrong,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “These lakes would be at risk of countless opportunities for water contamination if fracking is allowed, from leaks and spills to well blowouts. It’s a terrible idea and needs to be rejected.”
A number of cities that rely on Lewisville Lake for their drinking water have also filed formal protests against the leasing plan, including Highland Village, Flower Mound, Denton, Hickory Creek, Double Oak, Lewisville and The Colony. Dallas Water and other municipal officials echoed environmentalists’ concerns that the public did not receive proper notice of the auction. The Brazos River Authority, which manages Somerville Lake, reportedly plans to request more time for public comment.
“It's great to see these cities come together in the DFW area to protest these leases under our precious water supplies. I hope the BLM will now begin to understand that communities aren't willing to risk our water supplies to possible contamination for drilling,” said Rita Beving, North Texas Clean Water outreach coordinator.
“Additionally, there are water suppliers in the region such as Tarrant Regional Water District and other agencies who are now conducting studies to see what effects induced seismic activity from drilling may have on the integrity of these dams. It is a risk for not only the water supply, but it’s a matter of public safety for those who live downstream.”