RENO — A rural county has joined an environmental group in challenging an oil and gas lease sale in central Nevada that could open 270 square miles of public land to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
Lander County and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed formal administrative protests over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s July 17 sale of leases in 102 parcels around Big Smokey Valley between Austin and Tonopah.
Both parties say fracking involves an enormous amount of water and they’re concerned about its effect on the nation’s most arid state at a time of severe drought. Fracking occurred for the first time in Nevada in March.
Lander County Commissioner Dean Bullock said the county’s protest was filed on behalf of ranchers and farmers who are concerned that fracking could end up taking water away from them.
They question how exploration companies will obtain the necessary water, he said, and why the BLM plans to allow the companies to lease land that many ranchers and farmers were interested in buying for grazing and growing alfalfa.
“The bottom line is we’re supporting ranchers and farmers of the county,” Bullock told The Associated Press. “They want us to help them out so we can get more information about what the lease sale involves.”
Oil and gas developers employ hydraulic fracturing to boost production. The technique pumps water, fine sand and chemicals into wells to fracture open oil- and gas-bearing rock deposits.
The process has been controversial amid concern that fracking gone wrong could taint groundwater with hydrocarbons or fracking fluids containing toxic substances.
Fracking typically requires from 2 million to 5.6 million gallons of water for each well and can lower water tables, reducing water available to communities and wildlife, said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Fracking in other parts of this country has repeatedly shown the practice to be dangerous both for human health and the environment,” he said in a statement. “It poses an imminent threat to one of Nevada’s scarcest resources — water — as well as clean air and wildlife habitats.”
His organization is calling on the BLM to cancel the lease sale as part of a shift toward safer energy sources.
BLM spokesman Christopher Rose said the protests were under review and a final decision may not be reached until close to the sale date.
“It is important to understand that due to (lease reform), parcels can be deferred in whole or part up to the day of the sale,” Rose said in an email.
Rose said all parcels identified for potential sale that fell within sage grouse habitat were deferred and will not be offered as part of the sale. In addition, the lease notice identifies measures that can be taken to protect endangered species, cultural resources, migratory birds, wild horses and other land uses under the BLM’s multi-use mandate, he said.
Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. is pursuing fracking to reach oil deposits on public and private lands in portions of Elko County. Company representatives have said fracking is a proven technology to safely develop Nevada’s oil and gas.