This Earth Day, with the sun shining down and a warm breeze blowing, a small crowd gathered on the lawn of our nation’s Capitol Building to celebrate the re-introduction of an historic bill that would ban fracking on public lands, thereby protecting millions of acres of iconic national parks and forests while helping us move towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future.
Since the fracking boom began a decade ago, we’ve seen more than 1000 government-documented cases of water contamination, hundreds of thousands of acres of land damaged directly by fracking operations, and hundreds of billions of toxic wastewater produced. The spills, leaks, and explosions that come along with this dangerous industrial activity have no place in the heart of our country’s most special and sensitive places.
The Protect our Public Lands Act, the inaugural move from Congress in the fight to ban fracking, was first introduced last December by House Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). These legislators were concerned that the highly-anticipated rules overseeing fracking on federally-managed lands that were due any day from the Obama administration would be woefully inadequate in mitigating the inherent risks of this dirty drilling practice.
They weren’t the only ones. In fact, 650,000 Americans had petitioned President Obama’s Interior Department to ban fracking on publicly held lands altogether. Unfortunately, we were right to be concerned– the rule released by the Bureau of Land Management last month creates no limits on the toxic and often carcinogenic chemicals than can be used in fracking, and no requirement to publicly disclose those chemicals before drilling begins.
Despite receiving advice to the contrary from President Obama’s own science advisory panel, BLM did not place sensitive areas that provide drinking water to millions of Americans off-limits to drillers, who have already secured leases on 36 million acres of public lands and are looking to add another 12 million. As a result, some of our most precious public lands are at risk of being fracked– from the Delaware Water Gap to the Santa Monica Mountains, from Glacier National Park to Big Cypress National Preserve.
While ultimately the only way to protect our health and our planet from fracking is to ban it everywhere, coast-to-coast, outlawing fracking on public lands would be a meaningful first step in the federal effort to slow and stop its spread, and would provide the prized natural areas held in the public trust with the protection they deserve. Kudos to Congress for this bold and principled bill.