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Challenging Risky Oil and Gas Giveaway of Public Lands in Montana and North Dakota

 A full moon is seen above Mount Baldy in the Big Belt Mountains near Townsend, Montana, April 2019. Nearby land was recently protected by a federal judge ruling; however, the Big Belt Mountains are still at risk.

A full moon is seen above Mount Baldy in the Big Belt Mountains near Townsend, Montana, April 2019. Nearby land was recently protected by a federal judge’s ruling; however, the Big Belt Mountains are still at risk.

John Lambing / Alamy

What’s at Stake

The Bureau of Land Management failed to fully assess the potential harm oil and gas extraction would have on groundwater and ignored cumulative climate impacts.

Overview

More than 25 million acres of public lands in the U.S. have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. Earthjustice and our clients have taken a series of court actions to protect groundwater and our climate from risky oil and gas leases across staggering swaths of public lands.

State and federal scientists have made it clear in the Montana Climate Assessment and Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, that the costs of climate change to Montana and the U.S. is significant and alarming. The report called for “immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions” to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

In 2020, Montana landowners, farmers, and conservation groups won an important victory to protect local groundwater and the climate when a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider risks to Montana’s environment and water supply before issuing 287 oil and gas leases covering 145,063 acres in December 2017 and March 2018 lease sales. The court’s decision will protect Montanans, their livelihoods, clean water, public lands, and our climate.

In 2021, another lawsuit was filed, challenging five Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sales encompassing 112 parcels and 58,297 acres of public lands in central and eastern Montana and North Dakota. The lawsuit says the agency failed to fully assess the potential harm oil and gas extraction would have on the area’s groundwater and ignored cumulative climate impacts. The challenged sales occurred between July 2019 and September 2020.

Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center are representing the parties in federal district court.

Case Updates

September 6, 2022 | Legal Document

Final Settlement Agreement - Montana, Dakotas Leasing

Conservation groups and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have reached a settlement agreement that will prevent new oil and gas drilling on 58,000 acres of public lands in Montana and the Dakotas pending a new analysis of its potential harm to groundwater and the climate.