Let the fracking begin

Commercial fracking approved in Nevada

Rob Mrowka works with the Center for Biological Diversity and does not want fracking on Nevada lands.

Rob Mrowka works with the Center for Biological Diversity and does not want fracking on Nevada lands.

To read the Government Accountability Office report, visit http://tinyurl.com/lmq789l.

The first commercial fracking project on public lands in the state of Nevada has just been approved by the Bureau of Land Management and will be four miles northwest of Wells, Nev. The project is Noble Energy’s Mary’s River Project.

“Right now, there are two exploratory wells that have been fracked on private lands, but there has been no fracking done yet on federal, public lands,” said Rob Mrowka, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the approval of the environmental assessment means that they are going ahead with developing wells on federal lands as well.”

The land included in the project is a mixture of both private and public lands, but 20 wells are planned to be drilled on public lands.

Mrowka said that the CBD does not believe the project should have been approved at all but are also concerned for the manner in which this project was approved.

“There’s a number of shortcuts they’ve done, and none of them seem very appropriate,” Mrowka said.

BLM’s decision to do an environmental assessment instead of an environmental impact statement for this project and other fracking projects is a point of concern to Mrowka. Environmental assessments are not as thorough as environmental impact statements and do not allow for the same kind of public comment.

“They basically skirted the process of federal environmental compliance and left the public, to a large extent, out of the process by not doing an environmental impact statement,” Mrowka said. “An environmental assessment doesn’t call for public participation and public involvement. You had to really be in the know of when to look for it to be even be able to get the opportunity to get to comment on what they were doing.”

Nevada’s CBD is currently evaluating the situation to figure out what their next step will be, but because California’s CBD was recently successful in challenging the use of environmental assessments in fracking projects, they may resort to litigation.

Mrowka said he’s also worried about this project’s approval because a recent report by the United States Government Accountability Office stated that BLM has not been very effective in overseeing the oil and gas industry. Many new wells that are identified as higher pollution risks—about four in 10—do not get inspected.

The land included in this project is also priority habitat for greater sage grouse, meaning that the project could endanger a species which is awaiting listing under the Endangered Species Act. This is a concern that CBD has expressed in earlier issues with fracking in Nevada as well because BLM and the state are currently in the process of developing plans to handle greater sage grouse, their habitat and their conservation. Mrowka believes it is “shortsighted” of BLM to approve a fracking project in priority habitat when they haven’t made a decision about their greater sage grouse conservation plans yet.

“It just seems like, given the inability of regulatory agencies to control the industry, given the concerns about sage grouse, given the concerns that we’re already part way through a planning process, it seems like a rush to judgment, that we ought to be waiting until some of the pieces fall better into place,” Mrowka said.