INVOICES, Mont. (AP) – A judge has blocked oil and gas drilling on nearly 1,295 km 2 in Wyoming and said the federal government must consider the cumulative impact on climate change of the rental of vast expanses of US public lands for oil and gas exploration.
This order is the latest in a series of court decisions over the last decade – including one last month in Montana – that criticize the United States for not taking into account greenhouse gas emissions. they approve oil, gas and coal projects on federal lands.
US Judge Rudolph Contreras, in Washington, seemed to go further than other judges in his order last Tuesday.
Previous decisions related to individual sales or leases. But Contreras said that when the US Bureau of Land Management auctions public land for oil and gas leases, officials must consider emissions from past, present, and future leases that are foreseeable in the future. nationwide.
"Given the national cumulative nature of climate change, considering each vacuum drilling project deprives the agency and the public of the context needed to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal lands," Contreras said.
This decision coincides with aggressive pressure from the administration of President Donald Trump to open more public lands for energy development.
This was a lawsuit challenging leases in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado in 2015 and 2016 under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Contreras' decision, which prohibits the federal authorities from issuing drilling permits, was immediately taken into account in Wyoming for the leaseholds until they conducted a new environmental review that looked more closely at greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse gas.
The case was brought by two advocacy groups, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
WildEarth Guardians climate program director Jeremy Nichols predicted that the decision would have far more significant consequences than stopping drilling in parts of Wyoming, assuming the government is responding to Contreras' request.
"It is the judgment of the Holy Grail that we have sought, especially with oil and gas," Nichols said. "This calls into question the legality of the oil and gas leasing that occurs everywhere."
BLM spokeswoman Kristen Lenhardt said the agency was still reviewing the decision and "determining the way forward regarding the implications".
The burning of fossil fuels extracted from federal lands generates the equivalent of 1.4 billion tonnes (1.3 billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, according to a November report from US Geological Survey. This equates to almost a quarter of the total carbon dioxide emissions of the United States.
One industry group stated that the BLM was already analyzing emissions appropriately.
"The judge is asking BLM to guess roughly how many wells would be built on these concessions," said Kathleen Sgamma of Western Energy Alliance.
Following previous court decisions on climate change, the BLM reconsidered the effects of fossil fuels and then reaffirmed project approvals.
This could happen again in this case, with other studies done before drilling is allowed, said Harry Weiss, PhD-based environmental lawyer whose clients include oil companies and gas.
"This decision should not be interpreted as a ban on leasing activities," Weiss said. "The court does not decide whether to lower the thumbs or lower the thumbs. The court simply notes how the administration has analyzed the problems.