A Washington D.C. federal court decision has stopped future leasing on over 300,000 acres of Wyoming public lands. In 2016, several conservation groups raised concerns the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was not reasonably considering the impact of oil and gas lease sales on climate change.
The BLM argued it's too difficult to forecast greenhouse gas emissions on future leasing. The ruling qualified their argument this way: "Defendants vigorously assert that quantifying GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions at the leasing stage would be overly speculative, but that assertion is belied by an administrative record replete with information on oil and gas development and GHG emissions."
Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director with Wildearth Guardians, a non-profit environmental group and a plaintiff, said, "to satisfy federal law and to respond to the realities of climate change, the judge said that the BLM has to account for the broader implications of oil and gas leasing to the climate."
The court ruled the BLM should stop leasing on certain acreage until they can show drilling does not significantly affect the environment.
Nichols said the ruling also comes at an opportune moment for leasing.
"The leasing right now is ramping up, it's hitting unprecedented highs and now this really may just be the very check that we need to, you know, to rein things in," Nichols said.
For now, though, Nichols said those 300,000 acres does not overlap with the first quarter lease sale in Wyoming that started this week.
The case tackled Wyoming first, but the federal court will consider similar circumstances in Colorado and Utah next. The BLM did not respond to requests for comment.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.