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Groups Sue to Halt Oil, Gas Leases in Northern Arizona

Conservation groups are suing the BLM to halt oil and gas leases in northern Arizona, saying more current and thorough environmental review is needed. (AdobeStock)
Conservation groups are suing the BLM to halt oil and gas leases in northern Arizona, saying more current and thorough environmental review is needed. (AdobeStock)
July 17, 2019

HOLBROOK, Ariz. – A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Bureau of Land Management for issuing oil and gas leases in northern Arizona.

Together, the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians are asking a federal district judge to invalidate leases on 4,200 acres of public land in Navajo and Apache counties near the Little Colorado River Basin.

Rebecca Fischer, a climate energy program attorney with WildEarth Guardians, said the leases granted by the BLM last September are for exploration using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking - when no current environmental studies support that decision.

"The BLM was relying on an environmental analysis from 1988," she said, "and they didn't do any additional analysis before opening up these lands for oil and gas leasing, some of which are next to Petrified Forest National Park."

Fischer said they believe the lease owners may be looking to extract helium from the subterranean rock formations, although she added that helium can only be extracted as an incidental byproduct. Fracking injects water and chemicals into the ground to force out oil and gas. To remove helium, acid is injected into rock formations. The BLM had no comment on the lawsuit.

The suit claims that fracking in the area could pollute water in the Little Colorado River and Coconino Aquifer. Fischer said they fear it also could result in damage to habitat for several endangered species.

"The water impacts are pretty important on this case," she said. "It's the Little Colorado River's watershed, and that connects to the Colorado River that flows through a lot of the West. So, any impacts could have implications beyond Arizona."

The groups are asking the court to halt the leases, or at least force the BLM to perform a new environmental analysis on the area.

"What we hope will happen is that the court will find that these oil and gas leases are invalid and vacate them," she said, "so that no further development can go forward."

Oil and gas exploration is uncommon in Arizona. However, since September, more than 80,000 people have sent letters opposing the lease sale, and more than 150 citizens and conservation groups have filed formal protests urging the BLM to cancel the sale.

The text of the lawsuit is online at biologicaldiversity.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ