Newspaper column: Lawsuit falsely claims fracking will be devastating

The Luddites are tossing legal wrenches into the economic machinery.

A pair of self-styled environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to block oil and gas leases on tracts on Bureau of Land Management public land, claiming hydraulic fracturing or fracking might somehow jeopardize aquifers and all manner of wildlife.

Fracking is the process of pumping fluid into the ground to create fractures in a rock formation to facilitate the recovery of oil or gas.

In June the BLM offered 196,000 acres for auction in Eureka, Lander and Nye counties, but only 5,800 acres drew any bids. The 10-year leases fetched less than $7 an acre on average and some went for as little as $2 an acre. Another 9,000 acres were sold the next day in a non-competitive sale.

Despite the lack of interest and the uncertainty as to whether any drilling will ever take place, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club filed suit, declaring the leases have the potential to devastate the environment.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to “overturn BLM’s unlawful sale and ensure that BLM allow oil and gas leasing and subsequent development on the lands at issue, if at all, only following a thorough environmental review that fully considers the potential impacts of fracking and possible effects to, inter alia, water resources, wildlife, air quality, and seismicity.”

A BLM official told The Associated Press such a sweeping environmental review “would amount to speculation” and that analysis is performed on each site once a drilling permit is actually sought.

The lawsuit cites a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency study, saying that study “concluded that fracking can and has resulted in adverse effects on drinking water resources.”

The suit fails to mention the EPA reported that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances,” but “the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination.” They said the instances of contamination were small in comparison to the vast number of fracked wells across the nation.

“Turning over northern Nevada’s public lands to Big Oil risks polluting the region’s air, water and soil with toxic chemicals while fueling the global climate crisis,” said Clare Lakewood, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute, in a press release announcing the suit. “The Trump administration wants to turn public lands into private profits for the fossil fuel industry at the peril of local communities and wildlife.”

Pay no heed to the fact private profits are used to pay salaries of workers as well as taxes.

“At a time when Nevada should be developing its abundant renewable energy resources, the BLM is giving a boost to dirty fossil fuel development in the state,” Lakewood said, revealing more of the group’s real agenda. “Instead of surrendering public lands to oil companies, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to cleaner, safer sources of energy.”

The lawsuit spells out a litany of woes.

“For example, new oil and gas leases will allow increased fracking and oil and gas development, resulting in noise, visual blight, increased traffic, seismic risks, habitat fragmentation and degradation, increased air pollution, increased water pollution and increased water consumption,” the suit details. “All of these harms will diminish Plaintiff’s members’ ability to enjoy the recreational, spiritual, professional, aesthetic, education, and other activities in and around the Lease Area.”

And as though that were not enough the lawyers speculated about possible effects that are “highly certain or involve unique or unknown risks.”

The Luddites don’t seem to realize that the “fracking industry” has been around since the Civil War and hydraulic fracking has been used since World War II.

More than half of all oil production in the U.S. in 2015, whether using horizontal drilling or not, came from fracked wells. Currently, 46 percent of all natural gas production in the country comes from shale, tight sandstone and coal formations that once were not profitable. Also, 90 percent of all natural gas wells drilled require fracking at some point during production.

Despite the EPA’s diligent efforts to find problems caused by fracking, it found “the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination.”

Never let the facts get in the way of a Luddite’s litigation.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.