Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Judge Blocks Oil and Gas Drilling on 300,000 Acres in Wyoming Until Government Considers Climate Impacts

Climate
A drilling rig in a Wyoming natural gas field. William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images

A U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal leases in Wyoming Tuesday, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "did not sufficiently consider climate change" when auctioning off the land, The Washington Post reported.


The land was leased under the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016, but the ruling has implications for the Trump administration's agenda of boosting fossil fuel production across the country.

"This is the Holy Grail ruling we've been after, especially with oil and gas," Jeremy Nichols, Director of the Climate and Energy Program of WildEarth Guardians, the group that filed the lawsuit along with Physicians for Social Responsibility, told the Associated Press. "It calls into question the legality of oil and gas leasing that's happening everywhere."

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras goes further than previous rulings that faulted the government for not considering the climate implications of fossil fuel projects on federal land. That's because Contreras said that BLM must consider potential emissions from all former, current or likely future leases every time it leases land for oil and gas development.

"Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling," he wrote, as The Washington Post reported.

Some of the land leased was for fracking, a point emphasized by the groups behind the suit.

"Fracked gas is dangerous for people and terrible for the climate," Environment and Health Program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility Barbara Gottlieb said in a press release issued by the Western Environmental Law Center, which partnered with the two non-profits on the case. "This latest court win is not only a victory for our health and future, but it reinforces that the oil and gas industry doesn't get a free pass to pollute."

Offshore and land-based oil, gas and coal leasing by the federal government accounts for 25 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and oil and gas drilling is responsible for around 40 percent of that amount, a U.S. Geological Survey report found.

Tuesday's ruling doesn't ban drilling on the leased land entirely, but rather orders BLM to redo its assessment of the impact of the leases.

"This decision should not be interpreted as a ban on leasing activities," environmental lawyer Harry Weiss, who has represented oil and gas companies before, told The Associated Press. "The court is not ruling on whether it's thumbs up or thumbs down. The court is simply grading how the administration did analyzing the issues."

However, both supporters and opponents of the ruling agreed it could have a chilling impact on oil and gas activities.

"Any time there's a ruling that sows more uncertainty on federal land, that has a ripple effect not just on these leases in question, but throughout the entire federal onshore system," Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma told The Washington Post. Western Energy Alliance is one of the defendants in the case, and Sgamma did say she thought the ruling would be overturned in an appeal.

But what Sgamma feared, Nichols presented as a positive outcome.

"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 told Wyoming Public Media.

Among those disappointed in the ruling is Republican Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon.

"We will be exploring options and following up with our state, federal, and industry partners," Gordon said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "Our country's efforts to reduce carbon should not center on the livelihoods of those committed workers and industries who seek to provide reliable and affordable energy, especially when we don't look to the detrimental effects of other expansive industries. Bringing our country to its knees is not the way to thwart climate change."

BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt told The Associated Press that the government was reviewing the decision and had no further comments at this time.

The federal court will now evaluate similar leases in Utah and Colorado, Wyoming Public Media reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Wolf pups with their mother at their den site. Design Pics / Getty Images

In another reversal of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration is having the National Park Service rescind a 2015 order that protected bears and wolves within protected lands.

Read More Show Less
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says this is a historic step for the group. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images

By Linda Lacina

World Health Organization officials today announced the launch of the WHO Foundation, a legally separate body that will help expand the agency's donor base and allow it to take donations from the general public.

Read More Show Less
Because of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, in-person sessions are less possible. Merlas / Getty Images

By Nicholas Joyce

The coronavirus has resulted in stress, anxiety and fear – symptoms that might motivate a person to see a therapist. Because of social distancing, however, in-person sessions are less possible. For many, this has raised the prospect of online therapy. For clients in need of warmth and reassurance, could this work? Studies and my experience suggests it does.

Read More Show Less
A 17-year periodical cicada. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As many parts of the planet continue to open their doors after pandemic closures, a new pest is expected to make its way into the world. After spending more than a decade underground, millions of cicadas are expected to emerge in regions of the southeastern U.S.

Read More Show Less
"Most of this fossil fuel finance flowed to wealthier countries," the report says, noting that China (pictured), Canada, Japan, and Korea provided the most public finance for dirty energy projects from 2016 to 2018.
Kevin Frayer / Stringer / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Even after the world's largest economies adopted the landmark Paris agreement to tackle the climate crisis in late 2015, governments continued to pour $77 billion a year in public finance into propping up the fossil fuel industry, according to a report released Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view shows new vehicles that were offloaded from ships at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics on April 26, 2020 in Wilmington, California. "Vehicles are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in America," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. David McNew / Getty Images

Twenty-three states and Washington, DC launched a suit Wednesday to stop the Trump administration rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A food delivery courier packs an order in Bangkok on March 25, 2020, after the government limited restaurants to takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic. MLADEN ANTONOV / AFP / Getty Images

By Tanika Godbole

Southeast Asia is one of the biggest sources of plastic waste from land to the ocean, and Thailand is among the top five contributors. In January, Thailand placed a ban on single-use plastic, and was looking to reduce its plastic waste by 30% this year.

Read More Show Less