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2,000 Wyoming oil and gas leases to be reconsidered for environmental impacts

Stephanie Joyce

More than 2,000 Wyoming oil and gas leases will be reconsidered for their impacts to the climate, as part of a settlement approved in federal court last week.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be required to redo the environmental reports on all oil and gas leases sold between 2015 and 2020, under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This resolves three suits brought against the American Petroleum Association and U.S. Department of the Interior since 2016, led by environmental group WildEarth Guardians. Four other Rocky Mountain states were included in the settlement, including Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Utah.

“This opens the door to take into consideration things like climate science, the public interest and whether it makes sense for Wyoming public lands to be sacrificed for more oil and gas extraction,” said Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians.

Nichols said the initial environmental review on the leases did not fully consider all the effects new leasing has on the climate, an argument that U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras upheld. This comes after the Biden Administration reinstated a rule rolled back by the Trump Administration that requires federal agencies to study “direct, indirect and cumulative effects” of their actions under NEPA.

Ryan McConnaughey, the vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said that is a misinterpretation of NEPA. NEPA was signed into law in 1970, and it did not specifically mention “climate change.”

“Organizations are using it to halt all mineral production in Wyoming and across the West,” he said. “And so we believe that Congress needs to make sure that it's used for its original purpose which is making sure that production happens, but in an environmentally sustainable way.”

The BLM will not have to automatically toss out leases, and it can still approve applications for permits to drill. An upcoming oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming begins June 21 – the first sale to take place since Biden took office.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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