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Airline travel and more disrupted by global tech outage; Nevada gets OK to sell federal public lands for affordable housing;Science Moms work to foster meaningful talks on climate change; Scientists reconsider net-zero pledges to reach climate goals.

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Conservation Groups Decry Trump Admin's 11th-Hour Oil, Gas Moves

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Monday, December 28, 2020   

This article was updated with corrections on Dec. 31, 2020.

GILLETTE, Wyo. -- Conservation groups are sounding the alarm as the Trump administration moves to fast-track approval for several controversial oil and gas initiatives, including one that could impact the Madison aquifer east of Riverton.

The Moneta Divide Project would allow Aethon Energy to pump some 30,000 barrels of fracking wastewater, 15,000 feet underground, with most of that water going into the Madison formation. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said 1,500 feet. (10 a.m., Dec. 31, 2020)

Jayson O'Neill, director of the Western Values Project, said this could compromise communities that rely on the aquifer for drinking water, farming and ranching.

"Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, because water resources are scarce," O'Neill said. "And putting this much water at risk for some temporary profits for an oil and gas company is just far too great."

The Bureau of Land Management approved the Dallas-based developer's request to expand the Moneta Divide oilfield by some 4,200 wells. Aethon argues Madison is a good site for wastewater since it's already polluted with the carcinogen benzene.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved the company's request for an aquifer exemption in November. An earlier version of this article stated the commission had not yet approved the request. (10:03 a.m., Dec. 31, 2020)

O'Neill pointed to research showing if state regulators grant the exemption, the town of Gillette's recent investment in drinking-water infrastructure could be at risk.

"If that water should contaminate that aquifer, the $200 million investment -- a 42-mile-long water pipeline to supply the drinking-water needs of the community -- would no longer be viable," he said.

Moneta is one of a number of extraction projects critics say the Trump administration is pushing through by limiting environmental review.

The legality of projects approved under BLM deputy director William Perry Pendley is also in question. Pendley was never confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the Bureau, and in September a federal court ruled he must vacate the position because his leadership as acting director undermined the constitutional system of checks and balances.


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