Court Rules 2022 Wyoming Oil and Gas Lease Sale Was Illegal


Wyoming sale was one of the largest oil and gas lease sales held on public lands


Perry Wheeler, Earthjustice, 202-792-6211, 

A federal court ruled on Friday that the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to lease nearly 120,000 acres of federal land for oil and gas development in June 2022 violated the law.  The court found that BLM moved forward with the lease sale — one of the largest held by the Biden administration on public lands — despite the known risks to drinking water, wildlife, and the climate. BLM will now be required to reevaluate the environmental impacts of the sale.

“While BLM is making considerable strides to safeguard critical conservation values, this decision affirms that much work remains,” said Ben Tettlebaum, director and senior staff attorney with The Wilderness Society. “BLM must fully account for the serious impacts of its oil and gas program on groundwater, wildlife, and the climate. Importantly, the court’s ruling shows that the agency must factor into its leasing decisions the enormous costs that greenhouse gas emissions stemming from its oil and gas program impose on public land resources and on the communities that depend on them for clean air and water.”

Before the sale, BLM acknowledged that the greenhouse gas pollution from development of the leases could result in billions of dollars in social and environmental harm — the equivalent of adding hundreds of thousands of cars to the road each year. The agency chose to move forward with the sale anyway, stating that it was not factoring those costs into its decision. The court found that this decision was illegal. The ruling stated that BLM cannot “overlook[] what is widely regarded as the most pressing environmental threat facing the world today.”

“We are beyond pleased with this outcome,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “This ruling underscores that federal agencies simply cannot ignore climate, wildlife, and water impacts when analyzing the myriad risks of oil and gas leasing, whether in Wyoming or across the country. We will keep fighting to ensure that officials heed this mandate to the fullest extent.”

There is a growing body of evidence that BLM frequently puts underground sources of drinking water at risk by failing to enforce its own regulations that require companies to properly construct oil and gas wells to protect those aquifers. In the ruling, the court recognized that BLM violated the law by ignoring evidence of the lack of effectiveness and enforcement of its own regulations.

Finally, the court held that the agency had not grappled with how drilling on the leases would harm wildlife such as the sage grouse and mule deer. The court noted that BLM is reworking its conservation plans for the sage grouse in order to “stop the bleeding” of this iconic species, yet refused to postpone leasing in the bird’s habitat until those updates were completed and instead proceeded with the lease sale. The agency must now properly consider the harm to these species.

“We are pleased that the court recognized the harm of moving forward with this lease sale to groundwater, wildlife, and the climate,” said Alexandra Schluntz, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “This should be another wake up call for the Bureau of Land Management to at long last address the damage caused from federal oil and gas development. It is time to make fossil fuel leasing on our public lands a thing of the past.”

Earthjustice represents The Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth in this lawsuit.

Natural gas well pads, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming.
Natural gas well pads, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure in the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming. Once home to pristine, clean air and very little industrial activity, emissions from oil and gas production in this area now lead to unhealthy levels of smog. (Ecoflight)

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