A fracking site on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. Photo: Bruce Farnsworth
Environment | National

Native Sun News Today: Tribal activists battle Trump over fracking

Tribal groups in coalition suing to block repeal of federal fracking rule

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A coalition of tribal and environmental groups sued on January 24 to block the federal Bureau of Land Management’s repeal of a 2015 rule designed to protect water, wildlife, and public health from the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands.

The repeal eliminates safeguards on more than 700 million acres of tribal and public lands. The rule mandated companies to disclose the chemicals they used in fracking operations, set standards for building oil wells, limited the use of fracking waste pits, and required best management practices to prevent surface and ground water from pollution.

The oil-and-gas industry and its allies leveled court challenges keeping the regulations from taking effect. Then, in December of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first year in office, his Administration rescinded the rule, rolling back standards to the pre-fracking-era 1980s levels.

"This Administration has shown us time and time again that profit is more important than the health and safety of citizens,” responded Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation enrolled member Lisa DeVille, president of plaintiff Fort . Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, or POWER.

“Fracking has devastated our lands, so much that we do not know if our water is safe to drink. Rescinding rules that have taken years to develop shows that this Administration has no consideration for life. We need clean water to live. Without these rules, what chance do we have left to protect our water?"

The BLM developed the 2015 regulation through a five-year review process, in which DeVille testified.

Fracking sites on Bureau of Land Management land in western Colorado. Photo: Bruce Gordon / Ecoflight

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to reinstate the rule and declare the repeal in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

"The rescission of the 2015 rule has put the Navajo communities in Northwest New Mexico in a precarious environmental and human health position,” said Mario Atencio, board member of the plaintiff Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, or CARE.

“The local communities consist mainly of owners of individual Indian allotted lands, and the Department of the Interior is their trustee. These communities feel that the rescinding of the rule puts them more at risk of accidental and/or negligent contamination of their current sole water source,” he said.

“I am from Torreon in Northwest New Mexico, and we are deeply concerned that current decisions made by BLM and the Interior Department regarding fluid mineral development purposely steamroll local Navajo community concerns,” he continued.

“I see this as part of the environmental racist legacy of the BLM made clear by the lack of meaningful tribal consultation in this and many other agency actions,” he concluded.

POWER and CARE joined the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, and Western Resource Advocates in the suit filed by Earthjustice.

“This is another case of the Trump Administration putting our public lands and water at risk to pad the bottom line of the oil-and-gas industry,” said Earthjustice Attorney Michael Freeman in a joint media release with the plaintiffs.

“The agency has abdicated its responsibility under federal law to manage these lands for the good of the public, not just for fracking companies. We’re filing this case to force BLM to do its job.”

Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign Director Kelly Martin said attempting to rescind the safeguards for extraction on public lands “is yet another example of this administration refusing to do its job and prioritizing fossil fuel industry profits over the health and safety of our communities."

Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, called fracking “a dirty, dangerous business”, adding, “It endangers public health, destroys animal habitat and threatens our climate. That’s why we’re determined to fight this illegal and reckless decision in court.”

The state of California also sued over the rollback in the same court on the same day, which was less than a month from finalization of the announcement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s BLM.

However, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance welcome the decision, saying it “will save our member companies and those operating on federal lands hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs without any corresponding safety benefits.”


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Tribal groups in coalition suing to block repeal of federal fracking rule
Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com

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