Environmental ruling threatens Wyoming oil and gas drilling leases

March 25 (Reuters) – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not adequately analyze the potential climate change and wildlife impacts of a major oil and gas lease sale covering roughly 120,000 acres of federal land in Wyoming, a U.S. judge has said. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington, D.C., ruled on Friday that conservation groups had shown BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other laws during its analysis of a 2022 sale of drilling rights.

NEPA requires federal decision makers to carefully assess environmental impacts before approving major projects.
The judge said he would decide the fate of the leases at a later date. Cooper could pause, cancel or maintain the leases while BLM addresses the problems in its environmental review. Cooper agreed with The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth that BLM failed to adequately gauge potential impacts from future drilling on big game animals and an imperiled species of bird known as the greater sage grouse, finding its analysis was not detailed enough and relied too heavily on an earlier, broader examination of oil and gas drilling in the region.

He also questioned BLM’s review of groundwater impacts, and said the agency did not adequately explain how it considered potential climate harms from greenhouse gas emissions produced from drilling.

The judge threw out several other claims against BLM, however, including that the government had inadequately analyzed how fracking would impact groundwater.

BLM and the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, which intervened to defend the leases, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

“This should be another wake up call for the Bureau of Land Management to at long last address the damage caused from federal oil and gas development,” Alexandra Schluntz, an attorney for the environmental groups, said Monday in a statement.
Environmental groups filed two lawsuits challenging lease sales in the western U.S. that were set in motion by a 2021 court order that blocked the Biden administration from pausing drilling auctions to assess climate impacts.

The lease sales garnered thin interest from the oil and gas industry, which the drilling industry blamed on policies like higher royalties on production that made oil and gas development on federal lands more difficult. One of the lawsuits argued that six lease sales in western states violated the law by failing to adequately analyze the sales’ impact on climate change. Cooper rejected those arguments on Friday in a separate order after finding the analysis was sufficient.

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