The Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) attempt to sell three leases for coalbed methane (CBM) development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the agency failed to consider the effects of the development before selling the mineral rights to developers. The BLM cited an outdated plan to justify the sale.
Coalbed methane is produced by pumping water rapidly out of the ground to release the natural gas trapped in coal beds. The pumped water, which typically is highly saline and contains several toxic minerals, winds up in streams in the Powder River Basin and leaches into the ground, which damages vegetation and soil. The BLM's attempt to develop CBM offered no strategy to mitigate these effects beyond a short-term plan to store wastewater, unpurified, above ground.
As a result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice in August 2004, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that BLM's decision to lease public lands in Wyoming for CBM development was illegal, reversing an earlier federal district court decision. Now, the BLM is required to send its future development strategies through environmental impact analysis prior to sending them to auction.