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PSR Files Landmark Lawsuit on Oil/Gas Extraction

Posted by Catherine Thomasson, MD on August 25, 2016

Physicians for Social Responsibility and WildEarth Guardians filed a landmark federal lawsuit today to defend our climate, health, and America's public lands from widespread oil and gas leasing, drilling, and fracking. We are challenging 397 leases spanning 375,000 acres by calling for a climate evaluation from the use of the oil and gas being drilled.

Climate change is the gravest threat to human health in this century. A new study co-sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation predicts that if current heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, there is a 90 percent chance that regions around the world will experience record breaking heat during the period between 2060 and 2080.

What would that mean? Here's one example: With continuing emissions levels from natural gas, oil and coal, many areas of the Southwest will have summertime temperatures nine degrees warmer on average by 2060. That means the current record high temperatures of 110°F in Arizona would be average, common-place temperatures at this time of year.

Think about what that might mean in terms of wildfires. What about the stability of our electricity system? It's expected that the grid could fail for two to three weeks at a time due to that level of extreme heat, and our vulnerable seniors and children would have heat strokes. Asthmatics and those with chronic respiratory or heart diseases would become ill or die on the level of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina.

This scenario is only one of many that compelled Physicians for Social Responsibility to join WildEarth Guardians to file a lawsuit calling for the Department of Interior to evaluate the climate impacts to human health and to our wild public lands. This issue has been ignored by the Administration, even though they know that burning natural gas and oil from these lands will fuel climate change.

Currently, almost 10 percent of all U.S. energy-related climate pollution can be traced back to the extraction of publicly owned oil and gas. Yet neither an accounting of greenhouse gas emissions nor estimates of climate impacts from public lands oil and gas leasing have ever been disclosed by the Obama administration, despite being legally required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Since President Obama took office, his administration has sold more than 10 million acres of public land rights to the oil and gas industry, often for as little as $2.00 per acre. That's an area 50 percent larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Yosemite, and Ground Smoky Mountains National Parks, combined, at ludicrously low prices.

Our lawsuit directly challenges 375,000 acres of leases that have been sold by the Department of the Interior in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming since early 2015. Among the lands opened up for fracking in the past year are the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado, the Red Desert of southern Wyoming, and the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. This suit aims to protect not only these but other public lands by requiring a collective look at the entire program and pressing for climate accountability.

The lawsuit seeks what the Obama administration has already ordered for federal coal leasing: a program-wide analysis of federal oil and gas program impacts on the climate and on taxpayers, and a moratorium on new leasing until that analysis is complete. Americans want and expect their public lands to be managed to protect pristine air and crystal clear water, not creating smog alerts and fracking waste spills. (Photos here.)

 A moratorium during the required climate study would have no impact on current U.S. oil and gas production, as only 35 percent of all leased public lands are actually producing. Industry has been roundly criticized for hoarding publicly owned oil and gas leases for private speculation at the expense of the public.

This lawsuit is a wake-up call to stop doing business as usual. We have seen the success of clean energy around the country: 17% of customers in Hawaii produce their own electricity from rooftop solar. Twenty-seven percent of Iowans, 11% of Texans and 6.3% of New Mexicans get their electricity from wind—all without significantly raising electricity prices.

These numbers are just a taste of the bright future we can have if we develop locally made clean energy in place of dirty fossil fuels. It's a future where our lungs won't be filled with chemicals from fracking, we won't have such extreme droughts, and our children and grandchildren will have a healthy future on a livable planet.

Comments

meenal from philly said ..

Thanks, PSR!

August 26, 2016

Comments closed.