ST. GEORGE — Threats of contamination to the area’s sole water source and damage to local lands and wildlife are among the reasons civic officials, conservationists and others have protested a pending public lands gas and oil lease sale by the Bureau of Land Management in southern Nevada.
Announced during the summer, the BLM will be holding a gas and oil lease sale this week for over 547,000 acres in the federal agency’s Ely District. Included in that area is over 100,000 acres that encompass the East Mormon Mountains and Tulsa Desert. The overall area is spread across parts of Lincoln, White Pine and Nye counties.
According to a statement from the city of Mesquite, surface and subterranean water near the area drains into the Virgin River, Muddy River and Meadow Valley Wash, ultimately flowing into Lake Mead.
“The leasing of these lands for oil and gas development threatens the waters that Southern Nevada communities rely on — including the city of Mesquite, Henderson, Las Vegas, the Moapa Band of Paiutes and Clark County,” according to a press release from the city.
The Mesquite City Council passed a resolution in August protesting the lease sale, as “many of the chemicals injected during the development of oil and gas resources have documented adverse health effects and/or adverse environmental impacts.”
The resolution goes on to cite one instance in which someone was able to light a glass of water on fire due to the contaminates within it.
Mesquite Mayor Allan Litman wrote in an Oct. 8 letter of protest to the BLM:
Our protest is simple: Because the City’s sole culinary water source is groundwater from Basin 222, there is zero margin of error for our community. If oil and gas exploration proceeds and there is any contamination of the water, the almost 25,000 residents and the million plus annual visitors will be no more. They will leave and Mesquite will cease to exist, because of the lack of clean, safe drinking water.
Elected officials in Henderson, Nevada and Clark County, Nevada have lodged their own protests in support of Mesquite.
The southern Nevada chapter of the Sierra Club has also registered its own protest against the lease sale.
In a letter to the BLM outlining the local Sierra Club’s concerns, Jane Feldman, the chapter’s conservation chair, wrote that the lands the BLM seeks to lease “are not appropriate for oil and gas leasing of development.”
The land is home to sage grouse, mule deer, bighorn sheep and other wildlife, including other species that are threatened or endangered, like the Mohave Desert tortoise.
“The November sale threatens established U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service critical habitat of the threatened desert tortoise species,” Feldman wrote.
Using the public lands for oil and gas leasing also poses a threat to Nevada’s outdoor-based economy, Feldman wrote.
“Nevada has a robust outdoor economy that generates $12.6 billion in consumer spending annually. Meanwhile, our oil and gas sales generate paltry sums in comparison,” she wrote. “The Sierra Club’s outings leaders use Nevada’s public lands for our programs throughout the region.”
The Sierra Club, city of Mesquite and other groups met in Mesquite outside of the city hall Friday to voice a united objection to the pending BLM oil and gas leasing sale which is set to take place Tuesday morning.
According to the BLM website, the agency is required under federal statute to hold quarterly auctions for gas and oil leases on public lands. The leases, both competitive and non-competitive, last for a 10-year period.
“Revenues from onshore oil and gas production on federal lands directly fund the U.S. Treasury and state budgets, and support public education, infrastructure improvements and other state-determined priorities,” the BLM states in a press release related to gas and oil lease sales. “Forty-eight percent of lease sale revenue goes to the state while the rest goes to the U.S. Treasury. The state also receives half of the revenue from royalties if oil and gas are developed on the lease.”
The one of the latest rounds of gas and oil lease sales in Nevada garnered $70,526, according to the BLM.
Following the November sale, the BLM has another one planned for December. These sales and future gas and oil lease auctions announced for Nevada will be protested by the Sierra Club during a rally Tuesday in Las Vegas.
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