By guest columnist Debbie Coffey: PPJ Investigative Journalist
“Honesty” from Obama’s BLM is a Moving Target
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) empowers itself to do pretty much whatever it wants with its interpretation of the “Multiple Use Mandate” from the The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). This should really be called the BLM’s Multiple RUSE Mandate.
For instance, if you ask a BLM staff person why they’re removing our wild horses from our public lands (the Herd Areas that Congress intended for primary use by our wild horses with The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971), they’ll probably say it’s “because of the Multiple Use Mandate.” To the unsuspecting, this might seem to imply that the BLM has to give a fair share of public land use to everybody – like everyone gets a piece of the pie. But in reality, the BLM’s use of the Multiple Ruse Mandate will only leave the American people with a dried up piece of crust.
The FLPMA defines the term “multiple use” as meaning “management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people; making the most judicious use of the land for some or all of these resources…balanced and diverse resource uses that takes into account long-term needs of future generations for renewable and non-renewable resources…and coordinated management of the various resources without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment…and not necessarily to…uses that will give the greatest economic return …”
If you look at the projects in each BLM field office, you’ll see that corporations, often foreign owned, are getting the green light for projects that use massive amounts of our public lands, resources and water.
The BLM will soon be rounding up 1,506 of our wild horses in northeastern Nevada in the Antelope Complex (Wells and Schell Field Offices of the BLM’s Elko and Ely District offices). The BLM only plans to leave only 471-788 wild horses on 1,306,766 acres of public land. Even with 788 horses, that’s only about one horse every 1,658 acres. The BLM’s Environmental Assessment (EA) states that they need to round up these wild horses to “prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the public lands and to protect rangeland resources from deterioration associated with excess populations of wild horses within the HMAs and use of rangeland resources by wild horses outside the HMA boundaries.”
Well, a horse only drinks about 15 gallons of water a day, and couldn’t possibly cause the massive degradation and deterioration of the land and water that just one mine causes. To give you a little background, just one mine, Barrick Gold’s Goldstrike mine, has used over 383 BILLION gallons of water, and excavates about 20 tons of earth to make one gold wedding band, can you imagine all the earth it takes to make all mens wedding bands? (“The Mining of Our Aquifers” http://ppjg.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/the-mining-of-our-aquifers/ )
If you want to see degradation and deterioration of our public lands, take a look at some of the new projects the BLM has in these districts (these don’t even include existing mines and oil and gas projects):
The Rossi Mine by Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. – (in Elko county, located in the Antelope Creek drainage) Halliburton needs to expand the Queen Pit (and other pits), expand the waste rock dump footprint (I wonder if this is bigger than a wild horse footprint) and build a new haul road because there are international demands for the barite mined here. Barrick Gold controls 137.4 of the acres of “disturbance” with the remaining 269.6 acres of disturbance on land managed by the BLM. Barrick manages a storage area and Barrick Gold’s Betze Pit mine is only about 5 miles to the south. The EA notes that “The lowering of the water table at the Rossi Mine and the decreased production from existing wells indicates that the groundwater table in the vicinity of the mine is declining.”
They’ll probably blame that on the wild horses.
Pequop Exploration Project by West Pequop Project LLC (in Elko county Nevada) – The entire project is on public lands with a projected “disturbance” of about 400 acres. They’ve assured us that none of the drilling fluids used will contain hazardous substances and will not contaminate aquifers.
You could sigh with relief, except that many other hazardous substances have already contaminated our aquifers.
Betze Pit Expansion Project by Barrick Goldstrike Mines, Inc. (Elko and Eureka counties) – Another 315 million tons of waste rock will be generated by this expansion. New access roads disturbing 414 acres of public land. Expansion of the pit for a disturbance of 50 additional acres of public land. Construction of a tailings facility 46 acres of public land disturbance.
God forbid the wild horses dig a little hole anywhere.
Genesis Project by Newmont Mining (near Barrick Gold’s Goldstrike Operations)- Expansion of the Genesis open pit mine, disturbing 43 new acres and reworking existing mine disturbances for a total of approximately 1,135 acres, with development and operation of the Bluestar Ridge open pit mine and construction of an access road. Approximately 450 million tons of waste rock would be removed to extract 60 million tons of ore over a 12 year operational life. Currently, up to 35 drains and 10 wells pump up to 250 gallons per minute for up to 10 years, are expected to be necessary to dewater the Genesis Pit.
Do you consider a pit mine, which will eventually be a pit lake that will, in perpetuity, suck water from the aquifer beneath it, to be a permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment? Or is it just me?
Long Canyon Exploration Project by Fronteer Development and AuEx, Inc. (in the eastern Pequop Mountains, 28 miles southeast of Wells, NV) – Exploratory drilling for minerals on 5,348 acres of public land. The Long Canyon Joint Venture also owns unpatented mining claims on the public lands.
Emigrant Mine Project by Newmont Mining (10 miles south of Carlin, NV) – Estimated that it will use 130 to 140 MILLION gallons of water per year.
Leeville Project by Newmont Mining Corporation – This is a gold mine with a dewatering system scheduled to pump a peak of 23,000 gallons of water per minute (gpm) over the life-of-mine. And they’re going to pipeline groundwater from the Leeville mine to Barrick Gold’s facility.
Newmont Mining’s South Operations Area Project Amendment (SOAPA) (In the Carlin Trend) – This is an expansion of this gold mine. They want to deepen the quarry: “total tonnage to be produced for the remaining life-of-operations is approximately 118 million tons…” also, from 2010-2015, they’ll transport 915,000 tons of ore to Newmont’s Twin Creeks Mine near Winnemucca.
Papoose Canyon 14 Federal Well #1 by Fasken Oil and Ranch LP of Midland, TX (Pinion Range, southwest of Elko) Oil exploration, disturbing about 29 acres of public land.
You get the picture. And what about the fast tracked renewable energy?
Just in the Amargosa Valley of Nevada, the cooling process for one solar project could require 1.3 BILLION gallons of water a year.
Natural gas is touted for burning more “cleanly,” but Michigan and other states pump millions of gallons of water and thousands of pounds of chemicals into the wells under intense pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas. This has caused serious water contamination in several states.
There are many geothermal projects. In May, 2010, the Nevada State BLM office sold 328,020 acres for geothermal leasing. Who snapped up this land at $2 an acre? Barrick, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Michael A. Casey (who owns/owned the property where our wild horses are held in short term holding at the Indian Lakes Road/Broken Arrow facility in Fallon, NV), to name a few.
Any BLM field office can bypass an Environmental Assessment (EA) by determining there isn’t a significant impact. They can issue a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) or a CX (Categorical Exclusion).
In 2009, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report regarding BLM’s use of Section 390 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (GAO-09-872 September 16, 2009) that the “BLM’s use of section 390 Categorical Exclusions has frequently been out of compliance with both the law and BLM’s guidance. First, GAO found several types of violations of the law, including approving more than one oil or gas well under a single decision document, approving projects inconsistent with the law’s criteria, and drilling a new well after time frames had lapsed. Second, GAO found numerous examples – in 85 percent of the field offices sampled – where officials did not correctly follow guidance, most often by failing to adequately justify the use of a categorical exclusion.”
So, now we’re just stuck with those illegal decisions?
There have also been numerous challenges to the BLM’s FONSI decisions by groups including Great Basin Mine Watch, Northern Plains Research Council, Nevada Environmental Coalition, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Western Watersheds Project, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, In Defense of Animals, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Wilderness Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society and The Sierra Club.
The BLM doesn’t even have to do an EA on wild horse roundups if they deem it an “emergency.” In July, 2010, the BLM got a judge to lift an injunction in Owyhee after telling him 75% of the herd could die because of a lack of water. (http://artandhorseslauraleigh.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/the-silence-of-the-foals-and-journalists/ ) Interestingly, the EPA fined Kinross DeLamar Mining Co. for violations of the Clean Water Act in 2009, when its inactive gold pit mine discharged water into Cabin Gulch, which flows into the Owyhee River. Then, in 2010, BLM Director Bob Abbey presented Kinross DeLamar Mine of Owyhee County, Nevada with the BLM Hardrock Mineral Environmental Award.
While the BLM is busy rounding up our wild horses to the point of eradication, they’re allowing our land, resources and water to be raped by mostly foreign owned companies. Do you think they’re managing our lands in a way that will benefit your grandchildren? Or, do you think they’re clearly in violation of the FLPMA?
Fronteer Development (USA), Inc., 2010 Amendment Expanded Exploration and Groundwater Well Drilling, March 2010
BLM Draft EIS, Emigrant Project, November 2008
BLM Draft EIS, Genesis Project, Newmont Mining Corporation, February 2010
Papoose Canyon 14 Federal Well #1, EA, August 2009
DOI Record of Decision, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc, Betze Pit Expansion Project, May 2009
FSEIS, Newmont Mining Co, South Operations Area Project Amendment (SOAPA), April, 2010
Rossi Mine Expansion, EA
Leeville Project, Final SEIS, March 2010
West Pequop Project LLC, Amendment #1 Plan of Operations NVN-071287 to Permit for Reclamation No. 0193, March, 2010
Antelope Complex Gather Capture Plan and EA, September 2010