The story of rancher Cliven Bundy has supporters from across the West.

An Associated Press report describes Bundy's battle this way: "The current showdown pits rancher Cliven Bundy's claims of ancestral rights to graze his cows on open range against federal claims that the cattle are trespassing on arid and fragile habitat of the endangered desert tortoise."

I posit: it is all about oil and gas.

On April 10, the Natural News Network posted this: "BLM fracking racket exposed! Armed siege and cattle theft from Bundy ranch really about fracking leases." It states: "a Natural News investigation has found that BLM is actually in the business of raking in millions of dollars by leasing Nevada lands to energy companies that engage in fracking operations."

This didn't add up. Oil-and-gas development and ranching can happily coexist.

The Natural News "investigation" includes a map from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology that shows "significant exploratory drilling being conducted in precisely the same area where the Bundy family has been running cattle since the 1870s." It continues: "What's also clear is that oil has been found in nearby areas."

Alan Coyner, administrator for the Nevada Division of Minerals, describes his state: "We are not a major oil-producing state." The Las Vegas Review Journal reports: "When it comes to oil, Nevada is largely undiscovered country."

But, Nevada could soon join the ranks of the states that are experiencing an economic boom due to oil-and-gas development—which has got to have the environmental groups in panic mode.

A year ago, the BLM held an oil-and-gas lease sale in Reno. At the sale, 29 federal land leases, totaling about 56 square miles, were auctioned off, bringing in $1.27 million. One of the winning bidders is Houston-based Noble Energy, which plans to drill as many as 20 exploratory wells and could start drilling by the end of the year. Commenting on its acreage, Susan Cunningham, Noble senior vice president, said: "We're thrilled with the possibilities of this under-explored petroleum system."

The parcels made available in April 2013 will be developed using hydraulic fracturing, about which Coyner quipped: "If the Silver State's first big shale play pays off, it could touch off a fracking rush in Nevada." Despite the fact that fracking has been done safely and successfully for more than 65 years in America, the Center for Biological Diversity's Nevada-based senior scientist, Ron Mrowka, told the Las Vegas Review Journal: "Fracking is not a good thing. We don't feel there is a safe way to do it."

The BLM made the leases available after someone nominated the parcels. The process to get them ready for auction can easily take a year or longer. One year before the April 2013, sale, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a "60-day notice of intent to sue" the BLM for its failure to protect the desert tortoise in the Gold Butte area — where Bundy cattle have grazed for more than a century.

Because agencies like the BLM are often staffed by environmental sympathizers, it is possible that the center was alerted to the pending potential oil-and-gas boom when the April 2013 parcels were nominated — triggering the notice of intent to sue in an attempt to lock up as much land as possible before the "fracking rush" could begin.

Once Bundy's cattle are kicked off the land to protect the tortoise, the precedent will be set to use the tortoise to block any oil-and-gas development in the area. Admittedly, the April 13 leases are not in the same area as Bundy's cattle, however, Gold Butte does have some oil-and-gas exploration that teh center's actions could nip in the bud. Intellihub reports: "The BLM claims that they are seizing land to preserve it, for environmental protection. However, it is obvious that environmental protection is not their goal if they are selling large areas of land to fracking companies. Although the land that was sold last year is 300 and some miles away from the Bundy ranch, the aggressive tactics that have been used by federal agents in this situation are raising the suspicion that this is another BLM land grab that is destined for a private auction."

The Natural News Network also sees that the tortoise is being used as a scapegoat: "Anyone who thinks this siege is about reptiles is kidding themselves. …'Endangered tortoises' is merely the government cover story for confiscating land to turn it over to fracking companies for millions of dollars in energy leases." The Network sees that it isn't really about the critters; after all, hundreds of desert tortoises are being euthanized in Nevada.

Though the Intellihub and Natural News Network point to the "current showdown" as being about allowing oil-and-gas development, I believe that removing the cattle is really a Trojan horse. The tortoise protection will be used to block any more leasing.

On April 5, 2014, the center sent out a triumphant press release announcing that the "long-awaited" roundup of cattle had begun.

For now, southern Nevada's last rancher has won. Reports state that "the BLM said it did so because it feared for the safety of employees and members of the public," not because it has changed its position.

While this chapter may be closing, it may have opened the next chapter in the sage brush rebellion. The Bundy standoff has pointed out the overreach of federal agencies and the use of threatened or endangered species to block economic activity.

 

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations' combined efforts serve as America's voice for energy.