Groups Challenge Trump Administration Sale of 58,000 Acres of Public Lands for Oil, Gas Drilling

Feds ignored effect on groundwater, cumulative climate impacts


Liz Trotter, Earthjustice, (305) 332-5395  

Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 471-3173

Michael Saul, Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8309

A coalition of groups today challenged 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 represent WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Waterkeeper Alliance in the litigation.

Today’s lawsuit follows a case filed in 2018 by some of the same groups in which a judge ruled the agency failed to adequately consider climate impacts and water supply risks from oil and gas drilling on 145,063 acres.

Ava Farouche / Earthjustice
Source Data: Bureau of Land Management Oil and Gas Program
Map of the parcels offered in the July 2019, Sept 2019, Dec 2019, Mar 2020, and Sept 2020 lease sales held by the Montana – Dakotas field office of the BLM.

“In its prior ruling, the court made clear that the government’s incomplete analysis violated the law,” said Tom Delehanty, Earthjustice attorney. “Yet the agency has continued leasing public lands to the oil and gas industry relying on the same unlawful flaws, which is why we are going to court.”

“Time after time, the Bureau continues to insist that the individual impacts of a given lease sale are so minimal as to absolve the Bureau of Land Management of the need to conduct meaningful analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. “As long as the agency continues to ignore the fact that the climate crisis is fundamentally cumulative in nature, we will continue to seek judicial relief to correct this misapprehension.”

“It’s long overdue for our public lands to become part of the solution to the climate crisis rather than a source of plunder for the oil and gas industry,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re suing to set aside these illegal oil and gas leases because the Trump administration has completely disregarded its obligation to consider the consequences of its reckless public lands decisions on our climate and water quality.”

“Today’s lawsuit underscores the need for President-elect Joe Biden to make good on his promise to ban oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Jeremy NIchols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re holding the line on the Trump administration’s denial of climate change and embrace of costly fossil fuels, but to really turn the tide, we need the next administration to make climate and clean energy a number one priority.”

“In spite of the extreme urgency of the water and climate crises we face, the Bureau of Land Management has repeatedly ignored the clear evidence that significant water depletions and climate impacts will occur as a result of the lease sales we are challenging,” said Kate Hudson, Western U.S. Advocacy Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We are seeking to overturn these lease sales so that our communities, our Western waterways, our Native American Nations, and our planet will not be forced to pay the price.”

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