Group files suit to halt oil and gas exploration

Send in the Luddites. Don’t bother they’re here.

A group calling itself the Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking has joined the cacophony of doomsayers crying in the wilderness for all oil and natural gas exploration to be stopped lest the planet fly off its axis. Specifically, they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in an effort to stop a scheduled lease of 230,000 acres of federally controlled land in Lander, Nye and Esmeralda counties for oil and gas drilling, saying the leases will cause “irreparable harm to the environment, cultural treasures and aesthetic interests.”

Though the BLM announced the lease sale in April, for some inexplicable reason the suit names former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as a defendant, though Sally Jewell was sworn in as head of Interior a year earlier almost to the day.

The 24-page suit goes through the typical litany of alleged woes that come with the hobgoblin of the hour — hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the process in which water and sand are pumped into a well under high pressure to crack rock and shale formations to release oil and gas deposits, which has been practiced since the 1940s and now is used in 90 percent of wells. This has caused a boom in the domestic production of oil and gas, mostly on private land.

The list of woes include possible damage to the habitat of endangered species, use of valuable and scarce water resources, potential groundwater pollution, regional seismic instability, release of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, as well as possible harm to recreational, aesthetic and spiritual aspects of the land.

The lawsuit describes the plaintiffs as “a group of the directly affected owners of farming and ranching land, water rights, and grazing rights immediately adjacent to and over the lands proposed to be leased.”

While the suit makes a big deal about how much scarce water it takes to frack a well, it also claims the BLM failed to take into account the impact fracking might have on the “numerous alfalfa farms that are adjacent to the parcels both in Reese River and Smoky Valleys.” The suit fails to explain that a one-time well fracking job uses about as much water as an acre of alfalfa every year — about four acre-feet, though most of the fracking water is recycled. Also, the driller would have to buy the water from those who own the water rights.

The suit claims, without documentation or attribution, that “fracking has resulted in more than 1,000 documented cases or ground water contamination.”

But the Nevada Division of Minerals reports, “From our review of existing studies, we can’t find any substantiated contamination of groundwater from the actual hydraulic fracturing treatment.”

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a formal anti-fracking lease protest to the BLM by the Center for Biological Diversity, which made much of the fact that fracking uses “toxic chemicals.” Tap water contains toxic chemicals, including the highly toxic chlorine that makes it safe to drink.

The contents of the fracking solution used in the only fracked well in Nevada — in Elko County earlier this year — are posted online at a site called FracFocus, and it is 99.5 percent water and sand with less hydrochloric acid than is found in a typical swimming pool.

But never let the facts stand in the way of a good hysterical fit. “Fracking in other parts of this country has repeatedly shown the practice to be dangerous both for human health and the environment,” said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It poses an imminent threat to one of Nevada’s scarcest resources — water — as well as clean air and wildlife habitats.”

For any oil or gas produced on federal land, a 12.5 percent royalty is paid, with half of that going to the state.

While all this gnashing of teeth is going on, The Associated Press reports that many states have yet to recover the jobs lost in the recession. Nevada ranked worst in the nation, having 6 percent fewer nonfarm payroll jobs now than in December 2007. Best in the nation? North Dakota with a growth of 27.6 percent in jobs. Texas was next with growth in jobs of 9.5 percent.

A waitress in North Dakota can earn $25 an hour, while a truck driver can fetch $80,000 a year.

Why do you think that is?

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may share your views with him by emailing Read additional musings on his blog at


  1. HMMM – you say “hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the process in which water and sand are pumped into a well under high pressure”. However you hardly mention the extremely toxic chemicals used in this mixture also. Many fracturing fluid chemicals are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, and several are known to cause cancer. Potentially toxic substances include petroleum distillates such as kerosene and diesel fuel (which contain benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals); polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; and sodium hydroxide. Very small quantities of some fracking chemicals are capable of contaminating millions of gallons of water. Petroleum-based products known as petroleum distillates such as kerosene (also known as hydrotreated light distillates, mineral spirits, and a petroleum distillate blends) are likely to contain benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at levels greater than five parts per billion (or 0.005 parts per million). Other chemicals, such as 1,2-Dichloroethane are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Volatile organic constituents have been shown to be present in fracturing fluid flowback wastes at levels that exceed drinking water standards. For example, testing of flowback samples from Texas have revealed concentrations of 1,2-Dichloroethane at 1,580 ppb, which is more than 316 times EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level for 1,2-Dichloroethane in drinking water. – See more at:
    One analysis looked at the volatile organic compound methanol, which is known to be present in fracturing fluids such as surfactants, cross-linkers, scale inhibitors and iron control additives. The state calculated that a centralized fracturing flowback waste impoundment serving 10 wells (5 million gallons of flowback per well) could have an annual emission of 32.5 tons of methanol. The U.S. EPA reports that “chronic inhalation or oral exposure to methanol may result in headache, dizziness, giddiness, insomnia, nausea, gastric disturbances, conjunctivitis, visual disturbances (blurred vision), and blindness in humans.” – See more at:

    In the desert we can hardly afford to have any of our very scarce drinking water contaminated!

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