Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 13, 2017

Contacts:  Diana Dascalu-Joffe, Center for Biological Diversity, (720) 925-2521,
Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3051,

Legal Protest Targets Massive Montana Fracking Plan That Threatens Tongue River  

BILLINGS, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club have filed an administrative protest challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a December fracking lease auction of nearly 100,000 acres of public lands that threatens important water sources and imperiled wildlife.

The coalbed methane fracking could contaminate the Tongue River — a tributary of the Yellowstone River — and endanger the Tongue River dam and Tongue River Reservoir State Park. The reservoir and river provide water for tribes, 35 irrigators and a world-class fishery. Fracking would also threaten greater sage grouse habitat and the endangered pallid sturgeon in the Yellowstone River downstream. The state park receives about 80,000 visitors annually.

“This dangerous plan risks the lifeblood of a huge swath of Montana and Wyoming for the profits of fossil fuel polluters,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center. “The long-term impacts could be disastrous for thousands of people and their livelihoods. And it could spell the beginning of the end for greater sage grouse, which depend on these lands to survive.”

Nearly all of the parcels to be auctioned are located in habitat for the imperiled greater sage grouse, and 45 of those parcels are within 2 miles of “leks,” which are important breeding areas for the iconic bird. The fracking plan violates the BLM’s own conservation measures requiring the agency to prioritize oil and gas leasing outside sage grouse habitat. The plans were designed to conserve sage grouse populations and avoid listing it as “threatened” or “endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

In approving the lease auction, the BLM failed to acknowledge the potential hazards of coalbed methane development to the Tongue River dam and reservoir. Fourteen parcels of the sale are atop or adjacent to the dam, reservoir and Tongue River Reservoir State Park. Coalbed methane fracking uses millions of gallons of water and produces large amounts of toxic wastewater that could pollute the reservoir and river. 

“Our public lands belong to all Americans and should not be spoiled for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry,” said Marta Darby, associate attorney at the Sierra Club. “This plan poses a grave threat to nearby communities' drinking water and local economies, as well as vulnerable wildlife. We should be protecting these special places, not selling them off to polluting oil and gas companies.”

Download a copy the protest here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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