Plan to Drill in Monuments Exposed: Trump Order Could Open Up Area Larger Than Yellowstone to Drilling
May 24, 2017
Greenpeace / EcoWatch & Jennifer A Dlouhy / Bloomberg
Areas set aside by the Obama Administration as natural wonders now are under review. Critics say Donald Trump may bow to oil companies and end wilderness protections. An investigation by Greenpeace, published Wednesday by Bloomberg, has revealed that more than 2.7 million acres of iconic US land could be at risk from fossil fuel exploration following Donald Trump's decision to review the protection on dozens of national monuments.
Trump Order Could Open Up
Area Larger Than Yellowstone to Drilling
Greenpeace / EcoWatch
(May 10, 2017) -- An investigation by Greenpeace, published Wednesday by Bloomberg, has revealed that more than 2.7 million acres of iconic US land could be at risk from fossil fuel exploration following Donald Trump's decision to review the protection on dozens of national monuments.
By overlaying government maps of oil, gas and coal deposits with the boundaries of the 27 national monuments on Trump's list, Greenpeace's investigation shows for the first time the full extent of the land potentially at risk from fossil fuel exploration.
Last month, Trump issued an executive order requiring the Department of Interior to review all large monuments designated by US presidents under the Antiquities Act since 1996, suggesting they may pose a barrier to energy independence.
"These are the spectacular landscapes whose rugged contours and breathtaking views have defined America's history and identity for centuries," Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols said.
"They are the common heritage of everyone in our country and must be preserved for future generation. Yet instead of protecting them, Trump wants to carve up these beautiful lands into corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry. This out-of-touch billionaire may be about to hand over America's national treasures to the same industry that's already putting them at risk by fueling more climate change."
The analysis shows that a swath of protected land larger than Yellowstone national park could be opened up to drilling -- with six national monuments affected by the executive order sitting above fossil fuel reserves. These include some of the most iconic lands in the US -- from the spectacular rock formations of Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante to Carrizo Plain, the last remnant of a vast grassland that once stretched across California.
Iconic US landscape could be at risk from fossil fuel exploration following Donald Trump's decision to review protections on national monuments. (Greenpeace)
The analysis also reveals that, in some cases, the area of potential interest to fossil fuel prospectors covers the vast majority of the monuments. Around 90 percent of Bears Ears, 100 percent of Canyons of the Ancients, 42 percent of Grand Staircase; and 98 percent of San Gabriel Mountains sit above potential deposits of oil, gas and coal.
The research is published as Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is visiting two of the national monuments on Trump's list, Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, both of them in Utah, as part of the review.
Sec. Zinke has 120 days from the signing of the order to report back on whether monuments should be rescinded or resized, although he will report back on Bears Ears within 45 days.
Months before President Obama designated Bears Ears as a national monument last December, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved drilling applications by one of the US' largest independent oil companies on land that is now within the monument boundaries.
Since President Clinton created it in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument in Utah has been fiercely opposed by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has personally lobbied Trump and Zinke to scrap it. One of the reasons behind the desire amongst Utah Republicans to do away with Grand Staircase is the coal seam that runs through the monument.
Carrizo Plain, a remote area of California grassland famous for it's spectacular springtime wildflowers, was declared a monument by President Clinton in 2001. The Bureau of Land Management's 2010 resource management plan estimated that there were 45 oil wells within the monuments boundary -- including 15 producing wells -- that pre-date its designation. The monument is also surrounded by a number of large oil fields, including California's largest, which lies just a few miles away.
In the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, Montana, plans to expand existing oil and gas operations within the protected area's boundaries were at the center of a legal battle between conservation groups and the Bureau of Land Management.
"People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want unpolluted access to the public lands they love as citizens and own as taxpayers," Nichols said. "People must resist the latest in a trend of senseless rollbacks by the Trump White House and demand the Interior Department protect the land and water for people in their states and across the country.
Trump is on the verge of jeopardizing true national treasures, but the people who live, worship, work, play and rely on these public lands and waters will ensure that he will not succeed."
Trump Takes Aim at
Western Monuments That May Hold Oil, Coal
Jennifer A Dlouhy / Bloomberg
(May 10, 2017) -- Bears Ears National Monument in Utah boasts stretches of red-and-yellow sandstone so brilliant they appear to be ablaze and rock structures so precarious they appear to defy gravity.
The rugged terrain south of the Colorado River also has reserves of oil and natural gas that are currently off limits to new leasing -- restrictions that may end as the Trump administration reviews 27 large-scale monuments his predecessors set aside for protection.
Industry groups and Republican lawmakers have praised President Donald Trump's order to review those monument designations, calling it a welcome reconsideration of federal overreach. Yet, environmental groups are concerned Trump will scrap or scale back those designations, and the net result will be a boost to the fortunes of oil drillers and mining companies.
"Oil and gas is definitely a factor -- particularly given that with Trump it's been something he's talked about consistently," said Tim Donaghy, a research specialist with Greenpeace. "They're going to try to knock down as many barriers as possible to expanded oil and gas drilling."
Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, presidents can set aside land to protect historic landmarks, structures or other objects of historic or scientific interest. Most recent monument proclamations have barred new mining claims and oil, gas and mineral leases, but typically protect existing rights, according to an assessment by the Congressional Research Service.
Unlike national parks, which must be established by Congress, each monument has its own rules for how the land can be used.
Presidents of both parties have used the law to designate increasingly large parcels of land, raising the hackles of Republican lawmakers worried the protections will constrain energy development and animal grazing on the sites. Former President Barack Obama issued protections for a record amount of Western land -- much of it also rich in oil or minerals.
Republicans objected to what they have termed a "land grab," and Trump made reconsidering those designations an initial priority. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is traveling through Utah this week to see the sites, complete with a hike to Bears Ears' "House on Fire" ruins.
"I'm an optimist," Zinke said in a statement Wednesday. "Everyone wants to preserve the important areas, the question is what vehicle of land management" to use. While touring Bears Ears earlier, Zinke noted: "It is a controversial monument."
More than 90 percent -- or 1.34 million acres -- of the Bears Ears national monument overlaps with potential reserves of oil, gas and coal, according to an analysis of US government data by Greenpeace that was reviewed and checked by Bloomberg. The area also contains significant uranium resources, according to the Center for American Progress.
Those fossil fuels could lurk under some 2.7 million acres of five monuments, including Bears Ears, that are now under review, spanning an area bigger than Yellowstone National Park, according to Greenpeace's analysis.
The energy resources were illustrated by US Energy Information Administration maps of dense oil and gas formations known to contain the fossil fuels and sedimentary basins likely to. The analysis also drew on US Geological Survey data that shows recoverable coal.
Representative Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, has focused his ire on Bears Ears, the remote, stretch of desert designated by Obama just a month before he left office. Although environmentalists and some indigenous groups backed giving Bears Ears monument status, Bishop said out-of-state support drowned out local voices of opposition.
"They're trying to make this monument to protect it from being raped by oil and gas development, which is so ludicrous," Bishop said in an April interview.
Bishop has argued in favor of a similar, slightly smaller package of land protections, worked out with local officials. The set aside, which would need congressional approval, would allow recreation and grazing on some territory and tribal protections in another. Oil and mineral leasing would be banned in the protected zone but encouraged in other areas in the state.
At Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, the potential riches include coal, according to the US Geological Survey. More than 40 percent of its total area, made a monument in 1996, holds oil, gas or coal, according to the government data. The entirety of the Canyons of the Ancients monument just across the Utah border in Colorado is believed to contain fossil fuel deposits.
To be sure, the government's geological data is not definitive -- the sedimentary basins don't necessarily contain abundant oil, gas or coal. But there is plenty of evidence of industry interest in some of the national monuments now under scrutiny.
For instance, EOG Resources last year won state approval to drill on state trust lands near Bears Ears. More than four dozen dormant wells were drilled in California's flower-dappled Carrizo Plain National Monument before it was protected. And a subsequently rescinded resource management plangoverning Montana's Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument included plans for new oil and gas wells in the site.
"There certainly is industry appetite for development there, or else companies wouldn't have leases in the area," Kathleen Sgamma, head of the Western Energy Alliance, told E&E News regarding Bears Ears.
The presence of oil, gas and coal changes the political landscape amid the fight over this geological one.
"It's not just the fact that the resources are there, but that industry has been on the record stating that there's interest in development," said Kate Kelly, public lands director at the Center for American Progress. "We have to wonder who they are going to be listening to when they make these determinations."
Read More: Trump Orders Review of 1906 Monument Law to Help Oil, Mining
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