I am Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited (TU), and I am pleased to speak on behalf of TU at this timely forum on fracking. TU’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. We support the development of natural gas on public lands as long as it is done in the right places, and in the right way, so that fish, wildlife and water resources are not adversely affected. Our volunteers and staff, who are out on the ground doing their conservation work, know from experience that fracking and related gas development pose substantial risks to trout watersheds, and that is why TU and our partners have put a large amount of effort into minimizing the risk from that gas development on Western public lands, as well in the East, in places like my home state of Pennsylvania.
First and foremost, we would like the gas industry to do a better job over time of working with us and other local stakeholders to minimize harm to watersheds from gas development. To illustrate, TU and a number of other groups are going to be buying three operating dams in Maine on the Penobscot River in coming days. Yes, TU will be a dam operator, after years of working to minimize the impacts of dams. TU a dam owner? Unlikely even a few years ago. But we and others made a deal with an electric power generator, PPL. We’ll raise $25 million to buy the dams, so that we can remove them. In return, PPL gets the money and they will replace virtually all lost power from the removed dams via increasing generation at other dams. We restore endangered salmon. PPL keeps generating power.
Innovative deals can be made with stakeholders to protect and restore watersheds while still allowing energy development if there is a willingness to do so. We urge the gas industry to work with us and other stakeholders, communities, and state and federal agencies to develop more innovative projects on the ground.
Second, TU members invest in protecting and restoring trout watersheds, and therefore we care deeply about new threats to watersheds, such as gas development. Most of TU’s 140,000 members like to fish, and they give back to the rivers and streams by dedicating more than 600,000 volunteer hours each year.
We are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers, as the challenges we face are great: nearly half of the rivers and streams in the U.S. are considered to be impaired. The work of restoring impaired waters is slow and costly, but TU is chipping away in watersheds throughout the country.
Unfortunately, restoration work that can take years to complete can be quickly undone by improper development practices. In West Virginia, TU has spent years restoring streams in Pendleton and Hardy counties, planting trees along streams and removing barriers to fish migration. Meanwhile in Wetzel and Marshall counties, a gas company was cited by the state DEP for building roads through streams in violation of the Clean Water Act.
In the West, Trout Unlimited works with agricultural landowners to dedicate in-stream flows to improve fisheries. Some projects involve as little as one cubic feet per second—not a lot of water, but an amount that in a small stream during a dry season can make a big difference for trout. As TU and private landowners work to improve flows in small streams, elsewhere, water withdrawals from headwater streams may disrupt natural flows in trout watersheds. In Pennsylvania, TU and a range of partners are working to restore streams that are damaged by acid mine drainage. In the Middle Branch of Babb Creek, brook trout were recently found for the first time in decades. We do not want to see years of hard work invested in restoring water quality on some Pennsylvania waters be undermined by pollution from spills, blowouts and inadequately treated wastewater.
This is why we care: done improperly, gas development can harm aquatic habitat in ways that cancel out hard-won conservation gains. However, many of these problems are avoidable if development is done in the right places with the right practices: withdrawing water from appropriate water bodies in appropriate amounts, building roads and other infrastructure with proper stormwater controls and fish-friendly stream crossings, recycling and properly treating produced/flowback water, placing well pads and other infrastructure outside of riparian areas and floodplains, and preventing spills, leaks and blowouts.
It is essential that these steps are taken wherever development occurs so that water quality and aquatic habitat is not harmed by construction, drilling, fracturing and reclamation. But since we are here today talking about impacts to BLM lands, we must also take a moment to consider broader, landscape-scale impacts of natural gas development.
First, a word about those lands. BLM lands are NOT “the lands nobody else wanted,” as BLM lands are sometimes called by those who don’t know better. BLM and Forest Service lands provide some of the best remaining hunting and fishing opportunities in the nation, because of the abundant fish and wildlife resources found on them. TU members care deeply about these lands.
Thus, TU applauds the Department of the Interior for its good start on reforming its onshore oil and gas leasing process to improve public participation and environmental analysis.
These changes will help development move forward in a way that has improved public support and protects fish and wildlife habitat. We urge Interior to move forward on this effort.
Where environmental impacts have not been properly considered or protective stipulations designed to prevent impacts have been absent or waived, fish and wildlife have suffered. In Pinedale, Wyoming, where big game winter range has seen extensive natural gas development, mule deer herds have been reduced by over 50 percent. Recognizing the impacts to places they fish and hunt, sportsmen in the West banded together and formed a coalition called Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, made up of more than 500 organizations and businesses. TU and our partner groups, National Wildlife Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership helped to develop the coalition. In 2008, the group convened a symposium of land managers, scientists, planners and fish and wildlife experts to come up with a set of recommendations for improving the management of oil and gas development on public lands. www.sportsmen4responsibleenergy.org
These recommendations included establishing mandatory operating procedures for responsible development; improving the monitoring of fish, wildlife and water resources so that impacts can be detected and avoided, minimized and mitigated; establishing and upholding effective lease stipulations to protect habitat; and improving site reclamation and mitigation of impacts to habitat.
Coupled with effective implementation of the already-announced leasing reforms, these changes would help enable natural gas development to proceed alongside healthy fish and wildlife populations, strong local economies, and the unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities for which our Western public lands are famous.
TU appreciates the opportunity to participate in the Forum.