US judge blocks oil, gas drilling over climate change

23 March, 2019, 01:27 | Author: Darnell Taylor
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A U.S. District Court judge ruled Tuesday that federal officials failed to adequately consider the impacts of climate change when they allowed oil and gas drilling on almost 500 square miles of federal land in Wyoming.

BBC reports that the order marks the latest in a string of court rulings over the past decade including one last month in Montana that have faulted the US for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land. More than 20 million of these acres are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 against the Obama administration by two conservation groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"By asserting that these crucial environmental analyses are overly speculative at the leasing stage and more appropriate for later, site-specific assessments, BLM risks relegating the analyses to the 'tyranny of small decisions, '" Contreras wrote in his memorandum opinion. "It calls into question the legality of oil and gas leasing that's happening everywhere".

The plaintiffs maintain that while the ruling applies to Wyoming, it has implications for public lands across the American West and is "a major rebuke to the Trump administration's anti-environment, anti-climate agenda".

The judge concluded, "BLM failed to take a "hard look" at GHG emissions from the Wyoming Lease Sales", and therefore the permits issued for those sales did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA.

In his ruling (pdf), Contreras ordered the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to redo its analysis of hundreds of drilling projects in Wyoming to account for their potential climate impacts.

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The plaintiffs challenged only one of nine lease sales, Contreras wrote.

Against: "Bringing our country to its knees is not the way to thwart climate change", said GOP Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.

Federal officials were reviewing the court ruling to determine its implications and had no further comment, BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt said. "We need solutions not grandstanding", said Gordon, a Republican.

"To limit greenhouse gas emissions, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground and putting an end to selling public lands for fracking", added Nichols. That's equivalent to nearly one-quarter of total US carbon dioxide emissions.

"The judge is asking BLM to take a wild guess at how many wells would be developed on these leases", said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. The money is split between the federal government and states where the extraction occurs.

Following previous court rulings over climate change, the BLM has gone back and reconsidered the effects of fossil fuels and then re-affirmed its approvals of projects.

"[The BLM] failed, however, to provide the information necessary for the public and agency decision makers to understand the degree to which the leasing decisions at issue would contribute to those impacts", Contreras wrote.

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