The folly of oil & gas leasing in Nevada

cold water but you can do it
Johnson Lake in the backcountry of Great Basin National Park. (NPS photo)

The Silver State is made up of thousands of acres of beautiful landscapes. From sandy deserts, forested mountain slopes, snow covered mountains, grassy valleys, Nevada has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Until now, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to explore the landscapes beyond my hometown of Henderson, a small city in the shadows of Las Vegas. However, the recent trips I’ve taken, like fishing at Lake Mead and touring caves at the Great Basin National Park, have left me in awe of the amount of outdoor recreation opportunities that Nevada has to offer.

If you are a Nevadan, like me, and have never been to Great Basin National Park, you are missing out on one of our state’s most iconic landscapes. More than just the park itself, the public lands and scenery around the park made me promise my family and friends that this is the first of many trips to the Great Basin area. Last month we took a trip with my church, Centro de Adoracion Familiar — CAF — and for most of us this was our first time visiting the park. Not only did we admire this beauty on our visit, but we learned to understand more concretely how important it is to protect this divine landscape and how we must be the stewards of these places as God intended us to be.

When I got back home from my trip to Great Basin, I did a bit more research about the area, where I can take my community to fish and camp on future trips, and also how to better steward these lands. I came to realize that the Bureau of Land Management is leasing places all around the national park to oil and gas companies for single-digit dollar amounts. What’s worse is that they are being leased for next to nothing because they are considered “non-competitive terrain.” This means these lands have very little to no potential for actual oil and gas development, and taxpayers don’t even get a return on royalties for leasing out our public lands to these companies.

I wholeheartedly believe that our public lands are worth so much more than what the BLM is leasing them for. On my trip back to Henderson from visiting Great Basin, we stopped in a little town for lunch. This was the only town for miles and there were visitors both heading up to recreate and spend time with family, as there were people heading home from an exciting trip out hunting, hiking, or camping with their loved ones. Looking back on this pit-stop, I realize that if the BLM continues to lease these places to companies, it is small town restaurants like these and communities that depend on tourism and visitors of these places who will ultimately suffer.

Nevada’s public lands, communities and wildlife are currently facing an unprecedented threat as the current administration continues to accelerate oil and gas leasing throughout the state, including on lands where there is little drilling potential. Lands which harbor sensitive wildlife, water, and scenic resources. On Dec. 17, the Bureau of Land Management held an oil and gas lease sale that put over 268,000 acres of public land in Nevada at risk, including areas on the doorstep of Great Basin National Park. This sale was the fourth lease sale that was held by the Department of the Interior in just the last four months of the year.  Leasing this land for development can not only limit the access the public has, but it can also harm the wildlife in the area and the local economies that benefit from outdoor recreation like camping and hunting. And, it was only because of the outspoken opposition of local officials, as well as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Rep. Steven Horsford, and Gov. Steve Sisolak, that BLM withdrew leases from this sale that were within the drinking water supply area of Mesquite.

We were constantly taken aback by the beauty in our state — we even pulled over a few times on our drive back to Vegas to take in the setting sun over the mountains. After visiting this unique place and learning about wildlife and indigenous history that make it so special, it has never been clearer to me that these spaces need to be protected. This experience opened my eyes to my responsibility as a steward of these public lands to advocate for their protection. In order to protect the wildlife and local communities and to preserve the diverse landscapes of Nevada, we must raise our voices to urge Congress to protect these public lands and keep them in public hands. We also thank the members of our congressional delegation who have recognized the threat that the administration’s leasing efforts pose to our wildlife, recreation, and water resources, and encourage them to move forward with reforms that will avoid these conflicts in the future.

We must set stronger limits and boundaries on the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas lease sales, and we must do so before we see more of Nevada’s public lands leased for drilling.

Andres Almanza is the director of Outreach Operations/Events for Centro de Adoración Familiar church.