Keep It in the Ground: Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest 2


BLM Sheep Ridge Oil & Gas Lease Parcels 7-27-16

Activists Call on the Obama Administration to End Fossil Fuel Leases on Public Lands

On Wednesday, July 27, at 8 am, dozens of activists from five regional conservation and climate activist groups are holding a “Keep It in the Ground” (KING) rally and protest of the second Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction of Payette County federal lands and minerals [1, 2].  At its Idaho State Office in Boise, the BLM plans to offer and sell leases for fossil fuel development on 9,242 acres of Sheep Ridge public lands around the producing and plugged-pending-pipelines oil and gas wells in the Big Willow Creek area seven miles north of New Plymouth [3, 4].

This protest contributes toward a growing, nationwide Keep It in the Ground movement concerned about the climate warming and environmental destruction caused by ongoing fossil fuel extraction and consumption.  KING coalition organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and the Sierra Club, are urging President Obama to expand his climate legacy by stopping new oil and gas leases on public lands, just as he did with coal leases.  On June 18, 2016, in Yosemite National Park, the president said that the greatest threat to all national parks is climate change.

Groups across the western U.S. are planning similar “Keep It in the Ground” rallies for upcoming lease sales, like the one in Roswell, New Mexico, that the BLM has postponed, and past demonstrations in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada.  The organizations co-sponsoring the rally and protest in Boise on July 27 include Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Idaho Chapter Sierra Club, Idaho Residents Against Gas Extraction, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT).

Educating the public about and confronting southwest Idaho oil and gas development throughout our five years, WIRT members are grateful and relieved to work with other groups joining the too-few activists under great duress at three previous auctions of public lands and minerals since April 2014 [5-10].  We encourage you to accompany us on the frontlines of public lands liquidation to the oil and gas industry, at this fourth oil and gas lease auction protest in Boise.  If you can carpool to and from Boise with other north Idaho activists for this significant demonstration, please contact WIRT by email, phone, or facebook message.

Concerned Idahoans are standing up for their rights on Wednesday, July 27, and telling the BLM that public lands in Idaho are not for sale to dangerous extractive industries overrunning our beautiful state.  Bring your soft signs, banners, and enthusiasm, and meet at 8 am MDT at the southwest corner of the Walmart parking lot, close to Burger King, near West Overland Road and South Vinnell Way in Boise.

Participants will cross Vinnell to the BLM Idaho State Office at 1387 South Vinnell Way (on the left, to the south).  The oil and gas lease auction in the Sagebrush Conference Room begins at 9 am and will likely conclude by 12 noon.  Entering this government building requires presenting photo identification and signing in for the auction (and action!).

Issue Background

On November 20, 2013, the Houston, Texas-based company monopolizing recent Idaho oil and gas development, Alta Mesa, applied to omit BLM lands from a drilling unit in the Little/Big Willow Creek area of Payette County, so it could more rapidly access gas in that unit without the delays of federal environmental review procedures [9, 11].  After years of contention, Alta Mesa signed a communitization agreement for this drilling unit with the BLM on February 3, 2016, and withdrew its federal lands omission application on March 9, 2016, effective March 23, 2016.

The Bureau of Land Management prepared and issued a Determination of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Adequacy and a related environmental review report for its Sheep Ridge oil and gas leases and July 27 auction on March 21, 2016 [4].  But the document discloses that the proposed disposal of public lands and resources does not meet NEPA adequacy requirements.

The owner and/or driller of 16-plus wells in southwest Idaho, Alta Mesa redacted public records released in March 2016 on its Big Willow Creek gas wells that started producing in 2015, likely due to the extended (by law) waiting period for the government then the public to receive this information, respectively six months and one year [12].  The State 1-17 well, first to produce in the Hamilton gas field since March 2014, has apparently not yielded the bonanza anticipated by the state and industry for the young, “tight sandstone,” sedimentary formations under Payette County.

Considering the secrecy surrounding the production records of nearby wells, the low global market price of crude oil, and the North American glut of cheap natural gas, WIRT and allies wonder why a federal public land management agency is hurrying to extract fossil fuels.  Preceded by citizen demands for oil and gas industry accountability and local newspaper articles recommending its transparency, “Idaho is bringing in a team from the interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission to audit the Idaho [oil and gas regulatory] program” [13], and even the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking faster and better production reporting, suppressed over five years by the dominating Alta Mesa interests in industry-friendly legislation and rules [14].

Are any or all of these entities concerned that Alta Mesa may already be siphoning publicly owned oil and gas from under BLM lands in Payette County?  Idahoans and Americans must insist that the BLM keep fossil fuels in the ground, especially since the June 28 confirmation by Alta Mesa that one of its six nearby producing wells – the Kauffman 1-9 well drilled and tested in 2014 – is yielding both crude oil and natural gas [15].  The company collects the oil and higher-value, jet fuel-like, liquid natural gas condensate at the Little Willow gathering facility, trucks it to an Ontario, Oregon rail yard, then sends it by bomb trains to refineries in Salt Lake City and elsewhere.  Dry natural gas, the majority of predicted western Treasure Valley production, flows to the Highway 30 processing plant that removes water from gas, to Idaho Power’s Langley Gulch electric power plant opened in summer 2012, and into the interstate Williams pipeline, all near Interstate 84 south of New Plymouth.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal lands, including national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges that constitute about one third of the United States land area.  The federal government holds these places and their fossil fuels in trust for the public.  In September 2015, more than 400 groups and individuals called on President Obama to end federal fossil fuel leasing, and on November 4, 2015, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and others introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and to cancel such non-producing leases.  Days later, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground, rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Co-Hosting Group Statements

Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability opposes the precedent-setting July 27 auction of oil and gas leases on BLM land in Payette County for, but not limited to, the following reasons:

* The BLM has closed off access to tax-paying hunters, anglers, and recreationists in the project area on public lands, yet will allow oil and gas companies to explore, drill wells, and build supporting infrastructure instead.

* Little to no protections are afforded to surface owners whose water, air, soil, property rights, property values, mortgages, health, and safety will be threatened by oil and gas exploration and production of federally held minerals under their homes and farms.

* Exploration and drilling activities, which can include potential chemical “treating” and hydraulic fracturing of wells, and equally dangerous, supporting infrastructure all present profound risks to the environment, vital water resources, and the health and safety of livestock and wildlife within the impact area.

Great Old Broads for Wilderness supports keeping fossil fuels in the ground.  It is our best chance to keep global temperatures and the Earth’s vital signs from reaching a tipping point.  Fossil fuel corporations must not be allowed to shift the costs of climate disruption to society, while reaping profits from public lands.

Idaho Chapter Sierra Club

* The science is clear that the extraction and burning of dirty fuels is threatening our climate, our health, our environment, and our national security. From lung and respiratory illness, to incurable diseases that are predicted to rise due to climate change, to rising sea levels threatening resources and communities, to a rise in humanitarian disasters, we must take immediate action to stop climate change.

* Instead of more fossil fuel extraction, we should be building a 21st century transportation system and investing in the kind of clean energy that will create jobs and infuse new life into our economy.

* As we leave dirty fuels in the ground, we must continue to invest in clean and renewable forms of energy.

* We’ve begun to see the transition to clean and renewable energy for years now. From solar to wind and beyond, we can and must keep improving to protect our climate and prevent the worst effects of climate disruption from occurring. But we cannot do this without a just transition from dirty fuels to clean energy.

* Tens of thousands of Americans work in the fossil fuel industry. We should support these workers who have helped power this country. We must work with them, their unions, and their communities to negotiate a well-planned, fair and just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Working together, we can and must protect their livelihoods. We must make the investments to ensure their communities have plenty of new clean industries that provide family sustaining careers, that they get the training they need to fill those jobs, and that they can support their families in the meantime.

* A just transition also means that the fossil fuel industry is held accountable for cleaning up work sites, so communities are left with usable land and clean water and air.

* This transition will not occur overnight, but keeping dirty fuels in the ground and protecting our public lands and waters to prevent the worst effects of climate change is the right place to start.

Wild Idaho Rising Tide

This second instance of the BLM auctioning off and leasing federal public lands and resources in Payette County for corporate oil and gas exploration, extraction, infrastructure, and profit imposes on Treasure Valley residents, Idahoans, and the global community predictable and cumulative impacts.  This liquidation of public assets to the fossil fuel industry could contaminate ground and surface water and agricultural lands, release toxic air pollution and greenhouse gases from flaring, venting, and processing, compromise public, wildlife, and environmental health and safety, and ultimately exacerbate ongoing climate chaos that challenges human survival.  The BLM should cancel this auction and expect increasing citizen resistance to such destructive development schemes.

[1] Keep It In The Ground Rally (KING), Citizens Allied for Integrity and Accountability facebook event

[2] BLM Oil and Gas Lease Protest, Idaho Chapter Sierra Club

[3] On July 27, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM)…, June 1, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook post

[4] Sheep Ridge Oil and Gas Lease Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA), March 21, 2016 U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management

[5] Idaho Gas Lease Auction Protest, Petition, and Preparation, April 11, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[6] Idaho Gas Lease Auction Protest and Petition Report, April 17, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[7] Statewide Gas Lease Auction Protests, October 7, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[8] Statewide Gas Lease Auction Protests 10-15-14, October 23, 2014 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[9] Idaho BLM Oil and Gas Lease Protest, May 26, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[10] WIRT Newsletter: BLM Oil and Gas Lease Protest Report and Postponed State Auctions, Integration Applications, and WIRT Meetings, July 3, 2015 Wild Idaho Rising Tide

[11] See the Part about Other Note…, May 24, 2016 Jennifer Eisele facebook post

[12] Public Records Released by Oil and Gas Exploiter Alta Mesa…, June 1, 2016 Wild Idaho Rising Tide facebook post

[13] Transparency Would Benefit Idaho’s Oil and Gas Industry, and Idahoans, July 7, 2016 Idaho Statesman

[14] Idaho Officials Want Gas and Oil Production Records Sooner, July 21, 2016 Spokesman-Review

[15] Idaho Has Become an Oil-Producing State, June 28, 2016 Idaho Statesman

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