MESQUITE — An event designed to ratchet up a fight against federal officials over a proposed sale of public land near Mesquite instead turned into a partial victory celebration today.
Addressing a crowd of about 100 people who turned out to oppose the sale, Mayor Allan Litman said the Bureau of Land Management had dropped plans to include highly contested parcels located in the basin that provides drinking water for Mesquite and communities near it.
The prospect of fracking in that area had prompted outcry over concerns about contamination of water supplies. "At least for now, we're out of the woods," Litman said.
The parcels in the basin were among more than 550,000 acres of public land the BLM is scheduled to auction this month for oil and gas leasing.
Environmentalists oppose the sale of all of the property, citing dangers to groundwater, wildlife and areas of cultural and religious significance to Native Americans.
Opponents also argue that Nevada is poor in oil and gas resources, and therefore fracking here offers little reward while posing serious risks.
BLM officials say auctioning the land doesn't automatically mean it will be used for oil and gas exploration. It may go unleased due to poor prospects of producing any resources, they say, and drilling would be allowed only if it passes an environmental assessment.
But opponents say it's a chance not worth taking.
Among their concerns is that water basins are connected in the three-county region, meaning contamination in Mesquite could spread into Lake Mead and affect the Las Vegas water supply.
Speaking to the crowd outside Mesquite City Hall, Litman shared a letter from Gov. Steve Sisolak asking the BLM to exclude the acreage near Mesquite from the sale.
Other state and local leaders also have pushed back against the BLM, including Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Henderson Mayor Debra March.
Greg Anderson, a tribal leader of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, spoke against opening any Nevada acreage to oil and gas companies.
"They'll come here and destroy our land and leave," Anderson said. "They don't have to live here. We do. This is our land and our water. We have to protect it."
Sierra Club organizer Christian Gerlach said that although the acreage in the Mesquite-area basin had been carved out of the sale, other parcels could be included in auctions scheduled for December, February and March. He urged the crowd to be prepared to take further action.
Litman echoed the need for vigilance. He said he planned to work with city administrators and Nevada's congressional delegation on changes to the law that would exclude Nevada lands from oil and gas leasing, but in the meantime planned to stay apprised of upcoming auctions and express opposition as needed.
"To be honest, I just don't trust what takes place in Washington when it comes to the environment," he said.