More than 4,000 acres of land in northern Arizona to be auctioned for gas and oil exploration

The Center for Biological Diversity said the 4,200 acres planned for auction are within 3 miles of the Petrified Forest National Park. (Photo by Jesse Stawnyczy/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A Trump administration plan calls for auctioning off about 4,200 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona, but environmental groups are poised to block the measure in court.

It’s been more than five months since the White House rolled back environmental protections for oil and gas leasing on public lands.

Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, said his group is already involved in federal lawsuits to protect public lands from oil and gas exploration.

“What we’re seeing in this instance is the Bureau of Land Management, as we’re seeing all over the country, skipping environmental and public review when holding this lease sale and conveying development rights to industry. And that’s dangerous,” he said.

The center said the land straddles the Little Colorado River, and drilling and fracking in the area would threaten to deplete and pollute groundwater.

McKinnon said the administration is ignoring federal law. “The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal decisions, like oil and gas leasing, be subject to approval under that law. In this case they’re skipping that step,” he said.

Lawsuits already have been filed by his organization against BLM in Ohio and Colorado, specifically related to fracking. McKinnon said his organization is prepared to do the same in Arizona.

Trump has billed his energy strategy as part of his promise to bring U.S. “energy dominance” to the rest of the world, according to Time.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

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