Ute Tribe Says Federal Fracking Barriers Infringe on Native Rights

The Ute tribe of southwest Colorado wants to join a federal lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s newest regulations on hydraulic fracturing, calling them “contrary to tribal interests.”

The tribe’s reservation covers 1,059 square miles in the state, and substantial portions of that land have been leased to oil and gas companies.

The BLM wants companies using hydraulic fracturing, popularly referred to as fracking, to disclose which chemicals they use in the process, and to take certain steps to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

But tribal leadership said the steps are unnecessary. “With over 50 years of hydraulic fracturing operations on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation, there has not been a single documented instance of groundwater contamination,” Business Committee Chairman Shaun Chapoose was quoted as saying by the Deseret News.

And ultimately, he emphasized, the BLM’s ruling constitutes federal overreach and a threat to the tribe’s sovereign interests. “This is our homeland, and we live and work on these lands,” he said. “Tribes should be allowed to decide for themselves whether regulations governing hydraulic fracturing are necessary to protect tribal lands. … It is not appropriate for the United States to determine for tribes what is in their best interests by setting forth one federal rule for all tribes.”

Four states — Utah, Colorado, North Dakota and Wyoming — are already suing the federal government to prevent implementation of the BLM rule.

The oil and gas industry is a very lucrative one, accounting for about 8% of the U.S. economy (as well as employing around 9.8 million people), and fracking plays a key role in maintaining that industry domestically.

Opposition to fracking is primarily environmental. However, there’s an increasing amount of evidence that it can be done responsibly. Representative research was released as recently as last month, when Northwestern University professor Fengqi You published computational models that would allow the U.S. fracking industry to become both more profitable and more environmentally friendly.

“We wanted to see if there was a win-win strategy,” You said in a news release. “Indeed there is.”


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