© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Federal judge says the BLM has to re-assess environmental impacts of some oil and gas leasing in Wyoming 

An oil well in front of golden grassy bluffs.
BLM Wyoming
Flickr via CC BY 2.0

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has to retrace its steps with over 100,000 acres in Wyoming that was leased for oil and gas drilling.

A U.S. District judge sided with environmental groups on Friday, March 22, saying the BLM didn’t do a thorough enough environmental analysis, violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it leased 120,000 acres of federal land in Wyoming for oil and gas drilling back in 2022.

Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that the BLM didn’t fully explain the impacts future drilling could have on the climate, big game migration and sage grouse. Specifically, Cooper said more detail was needed in the environmental analysis and that it used too much outdated data on drilling in the area.

“The Court therefore cannot conclude, based on this record, that the Bureau took a hard look at the lease sale’s impact on wildlife,” Cooper wrote.

So, the agency will now have to re-look at these impacts.

Cooper did throw out some of the arguments made against the BLM that the agency didn’t fully look at how groundwater could be affected by fracking, saying it was thorough enough.

But overall, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice Alexandra Schluntz, one of the environmental groups involved in the lawsuit, said they consider this a win.

“Once they've done that forecasting BLM will need to use that information to determine how best to protect the species,” Schluntz said about mule deer and sage grouse. “And that could mean potentially not leasing certain parcels that are in particularly sensitive habitat. Or it could mean additional mitigation measures like restrictions on drilling during certain times of year or other types of mitigation.”

The fate of the actual leases are in the judge’s hands, and the timeline is unclear. He said he’ll decide at a later time whether they’ll be paused, canceled or maintained while the BLM fixes its environmental analysis.

The BLM said in an email to Wyoming Public Media that because of on-going litigation the agency has no comment at this time.

Meanwhile, Judge Christopher Cooper recently sided with industry in a separate lawsuit regarding oil and gas lease sales in seven states, including Wyoming.

This lawsuit also focused on lease sales from 2022. Environmental groups asserted that the BLM didn’t fully look at the impacts to climate change, but Cooper found that the analysis was sufficient.

“Our legal team argued that the Biden Administration…has been unable to define what level of emissions is significant in NEPA analyses,” President of the Western Energy Alliance Kathleen Sgamma in a press release. “It is illogical to expect BLM, which is the expert agency on land management but not the government’s climate change scientific research agency, to do so on its own.”

These lawsuits both came after a rocky start to oil and gas leasing when the Biden administration took office. Initially, the sales were put on pause to further look at climate change impacts. Typically, sales are held four times a year. After about a year and a half of the pause, the administration resumed the sales due to a court order.

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.
Related Content