Sierra Club representative Christian Gerlach, center, hosted a press conference in front of Mesquite City Hall on Nov. 8 protesting potential oil and gas leases near Mesquite. Mayor Al Litman, right, and Justin McAffee from Las Vegas also participated. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

Even though the Bureau of Land Management pulled land parcels associated with Mesquite’s primary source of water from potential auction, the Sierra Club continued with its public protest on Friday, Nov. 8, at Mesquite City Hall.

Christian Gerlach, local representative of the Sierra Club, hosted the press conference that featured Mesquite Mayor Al Litman and Justin McAffee from Las Vegas.

Litman gave credit to Gov. Steve Sisolak, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick for influencing the BLM to withdraw land parcels in Lincoln County that sit atop or close to water basin 222 that is the primary aquifer source for Mesquite’s culinary water. The leases would have allowed oil and gas development using fracking as a drilling method.

“It looks like we’re out of the woods right now for these potential lease auctions,” Litman said. “The BLM has removed Basin 222 from the upcoming oil and gas lease auction, at least at this point.”

Litman noted the auctions are periodically required by federal law. “That doesn’t make sense in areas that don’t have a lot of oil and gas that merit anyone doing anything,” he said. “But we must remain vigilant. I just don’t trust the federal government when it comes to what takes place with our environment.”

The Mesquite City Council and the Virgin Valley Water District submitted comments to the BLM earlier this year opposing the auctions.

Mesquite city officials say that a more permanent long-term solution is necessary to remove the land parcels within Basin 222 from future auctions.

“We intend to work with our partners and the Ely District of the BLM to make changes to the Resource Management Plan that will permanently remove the parcels from auction within the Hydrologic Basin 222 and then we don’t have to go through this exercise every couple years,” the mayor said.

Even though the crowd of about 60 people were largely in favor of the parcel removals, Chett Ruth was not. Ruth, a Mesquite resident, has worked in the oil and gas industry including fracking operations for more than seven years.

“Everyone thinks fracking will affect the water table, but it won’t,” Ruth told the Mesquite Local News. “People are so mis-informed about this issue.”

Ruth said while the water table usually sits about 300 feet below the surface, drilling machines ultimately go down about 14,000 to 15,000 feet, “much further below the aquifer than anyone realizes. You cannot bother the water when you go down so far below it.”

Ruth also said that fracking does not cause earthquakes as some people claim. “That’s not true. As the drilling pulls out the gas and oil, the voids are refilled with non-potable waters or other liquids that people can’t use.”

He said the local region and southern Utah has “some of the highest levels of oil and gas in the west. We could have hundreds of jobs in the local area if the leases were allowed to go through. The oil and gas industry has less of an environmental footprint than do the battery operated and electric cars that the environmentalists use.”