Why We Must Work to Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground

This past November, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the government agency that oversees taxpayer-owned public lands, auctioned off tens of thousands of acres of land, including portions of the Pawnee National Grasslands in my home of Colorado, to the highest bidding oil and gas companies, Providing oil and gas leases on public lands is something the BLM has routinely done four times each year. However, this was the first time in the bidding process in Colorado where the BLM faced resistance in the form of young environmentalists blocking the street entrance and demanding that our government put an end to the process of auctioning off our future. This action was supported by a multigenerational group of supporters clad with artwork and signs demanding an end to auctioning off our public lands to oil and gas extraction.

This movement stems from the work by an organization called 350, whose name is representative of the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide that we must remain below in order to maintain a stable, safe climate. (We recently surpassed 405 ppm) Bill McKibben, 350’s founder, wrote in Rolling Stone that we needed to keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to avoid cataclysmic climate change. This means billions of dollars in revenue loss for the fossil fuel industry – a prospect they very much dislike.


Our rally and blockade earned us some attention from the police and the media (as well as the auctioneer, who hit a young activist with his Cadillac). With public pressure weighing in from all across the country, the BLM cancelled planned auctions in Utah and Washington D.C. these past few months. Then, as we began preparing for the next scheduled action in Colorado on February 11th, the government agency announced that they would cancel this action too.

These cancellations and the hundreds of acres of public lands that have been temporarily saved from extraction are the result of the larger movement taking place to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Activists are bird-dogging presidential candidates in the primaries, asking them to commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands if they are to be elected. Municipalities are banning extraction, including Cape Coral, Florida, which on Monday banned fracking for oil and gas. In Colorado, Boulder County, Broomfield, Lafayette, and Fort Collins have enacted fracking bans or moratoria. Several other communities across the state and all across the nation are seeking similar protections. 

If we are to mitigate the risks that climate change poses to our home – severe fires, intense flooding, drought, erratic precipitation patterns in my home of Colorado – there must be more pressure on our elected officials to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

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