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COMMENTARY: Fracking safely in Nevada for decades

Perhaps Nevada’s small oil and natural gas industry has been out-of-sight, out-of-mind for too long. Even though fracking has been safely conducted in Nevada for decades, some politicians have called for a virtual ban on the industry in the state.

Fracking is an engineering process that has been performed safely on more than 1.2 million wells across the country since 1947. The United States wouldn’t lead the world in oil and natural gas production if it weren’t for fracking, and we’d still be importing large quantities of oil from Russia and the Middle East.

Yet the 10.3 million jobs the industry supports and $1.4 trillion in economic impact wouldn’t be worth it if fracking harmed human health or the environment. To ensure protection, states such as Nevada strictly regulate it. President Barack Obama’s EPA conducted a comprehensive, multi-year study of fracking, finding no widespread contamination of drinking water as alleged by groups opposed to any oil and natural gas development. EPA made recommendations on reducing the small risk of accident, which states have addressed with updated regulation.

Nevada improved its rules in 2014, making them some of the country’s most stringent to ensure water supplies are protected. Companies comply with additional state and federal regulations to ensure development protects public health and the environment.

Yet despite the low risk and heavy regulation, some presidential candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was recently in Elko, promise to ban fracking and federal leasing. But if leasing cannot occur on federal lands, which make up about 85 percent of Nevada, then oil and natural gas development in the state would be halted. National parks and wilderness areas are, of course, already closed to leasing.

Yes, oil and natural gas production is relatively small in Nevada compared with Texas or New Mexico, but it provides jobs, tax revenue and economic opportunity in Elko, Eureka and northern Nye and White Pine counties. Some geologists believe that Nevada has high-quality untapped energy resources, and companies are conducting exploratory work.

The BLM recently removed extensive acreage from Nevada lease sales because of protests from Clark County and the cities of Henderson and Mesquite. Western Energy Alliance supports that decision because for too long, a few bad actors in Nevada have operated well outside normal, responsible industry behavior. They have nominated millions of acres over many years without reasoning or any intention of leasing them. As a result, Nevada has been an outlier from normal leasing practice for several years compared with other states such as Wyoming or New Mexico where federal leases are common.

These millions of acres nominated for leasing that never receive any bids at auction skew statistics and waste BLM’s time pushing paper. But nominations without bids never become leases. Concern about leases in Southern Nevada that never materialize creates bad publicity that impacts responsible companies operating in historic oil and natural gas areas much farther north.

We support responsible leasing and fracking in Nevada. We encourage BLM to concentrate resources on legitimate lease nominations, not on poorly thought-out, bulk nominations from a few bad actors.

— Kathleen Sgamma is the president of Western Energy Alliance, which works on behalf of companies involved in environmentally responsible oil and natural gas exploration and production in the West.

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