Fracking up

Land in central Nevada may be sold for fracking

Greater sage grouse may be at risk if land in central Nevada is sold for fracking.

Greater sage grouse may be at risk if land in central Nevada is sold for fracking.

To see the Center for Biological Diversity's formal protest, visit

An upcoming Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale includes over 174,000 acres of land between the towns of Tonopah and Austin in north central Nevada. This sale means that all or a portion of these lands could potentially be opened up to the highly controversial process of fracking.

In response to the notice of this sale on April 14, the Center for Biological Diversity recently filed a 47-page formal protest of the sale. The reasons for CBD’s protest are extensive but include concerns for public health, water and air quality, and rare species present on this land, according to senior scientist at CBD and author of the protest Rob Mrowka. Most are concerns shared by many anti-fracking individuals.

“Fracking is a highly dangerous process of injecting a toxic brew of chemicals … into the ground at high pressures to basically blast apart or crack rocks in the earth’s surface to release trapped natural gas and oil,” Mrowka said. “And there’s a significant risk, we feel, for pollution of the environment in a number of ways. I mean, through the introduction of those chemicals into the earth, the possible pathways that are created by the fracking process itself to connect those chemicals with groundwater. There are many different ways.”

But specifically in this area, Mrowka stated concerns for species and animal habitats that could be affected negatively if this sale goes through and the land is used for fracking.

“We’re very concerned about … the specific impacts of the parcels in this sale on rare species such as greater sage grouse, several species of desert fish, several rare plants and a couple of rare kangaroo mice,” Mrowka said.

What to do about the population of greater sage grouse in Nevada and surrounding states is hotly debated right now, as the species is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. BLM is in the process of coming up with a plan to better protect sage grouse. Mrowka hopes BLM will consider not having the sale at all.

“What we’ve asked for is a cancellation of the sale, or at the bare minimum, a postponement of the sale until other planning processes that are going on now for the protection of greater sage grouse are completed,” Mrowka said.

CBD and Mrowka also have concerns about the environmental study conducted for this sale—an environmental assessment as opposed to an environmental impact statement—because it is a lower level study than they believe necessary for this particular situation. The high possibility that these lands may be used for horizontal hydraulic fracturing is most of the reason why CBD believes the impacts on the environment would be significant and require an EIS as opposed to the EA, according to their protest.

BLM has up until the day of the sale—July 17—to respond to CBD’s protest and announce whether they will withdraw any or all of the parcels from the sale. The next step for CBD, depending on BLM’s response, may be litigation.