BLM lease suspensions pending NEPA review

Projects all across the West are under the threat of suspension after the BLM voluntarily suspended leases following a ruling by the federal district court in Washington, D.C., in March which ordered the BLM to repeat their environmental analysis for a number of leases in Wyoming to “better assess climate impacts”.

One of the pitfalls of oil and gas projects located on state lands is that this could happen anywhere. The BLMs Utah Office have voluntarily suspended over 100 leases after being sued, before a court even ruled on the case. An estimated 1 million acres may now be suspended across the West and lawsuits targeting New Mexico and Montana are pending.

Suspension doesn’t automatically mean dead in the water; according to the article below, a spokesperson for the BLM addressed the possible outcome of the suspension by stating.

“BLM Utah is committed to responsible development of our nation’s energy resources and is therefore conducting further NEPA analysis” of the leases it has suspended. She said the review could result in the leases being canceled, amended or reissued with no changes.

If you have an interested in investing in oil and gas, it is definitely a question you should be asking. The difference between state land leases and private leases could make a big difference in your decision making in the current climate.

U.S. Suspends More Oil and Gas Leases Over What Could Be a Widespread Problem

Fossil Fuel leases totaling hundreds of thousands of acres have been suspended as courts rule against the BLM for ignoring climate impact.

Nicholas Kusnetz

NOV 17, 2019

Pump-jacks on land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Credit: BLM
Nearly a quarter of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil fuels developed on federal lands, according to a government report. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

The Trump administration’s relentless push to expand fossil fuel production on federal lands is hitting a new snag: its own refusal to consider the climate impacts of development.

The federal Bureau of Land Management’s Utah office in September voluntarily suspended 130 oil and gas leases after advocacy groups sued, arguing that BLM hadn’t adequately assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling and extraction on those leases as required by law.

The move was unusual because BLM suspended the leases on its own, without waiting for a court to rule.

Some environmental advocates say it could indicate a larger problem for the bureau. 

“It is potentially a BLM-wide issue,” said Jayni Hein, natural resources director at the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, which has been involved in similar litigation in other states. “It could have the effect of suspending even more leases across the West, and not just for oil and gas, for coal as well.”

Officials in Utah had already pulled back several other lease sales earlier this year. In effect, BLM appears to be trying to get ahead of potential court rulings, advocates say.

A series of court rulings have established that BLM must conduct a thorough analysis of the climate impacts of drilling before it allows development in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In the latest ruling, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., in March ordered the bureau to redo its environmental analysis for a slate of leases in Wyoming to better assess climate impacts. In response, BLM suspended the Wyoming leases, as well as leases in Utah and Colorado that were included in the lawsuit but not directly addressed by the ruling. 

The new Utah suspensions cover a different set of leases, including many sold last year. In letters sent in September to energy companies that had bought the leases, BLM said it was suspending them “based on the parallels” between the lawsuit over them and the case that resulted in the March ruling in Washington, D.C.

All told, nearly 1 million acres may now be suspended across the West, said Rebecca Fischer, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, which filed the lawsuit in the Washington, D.C., circuit, including more than 460,000 acres covered by that lawsuit and some 300,000 acres that Utah’s BLM office has suspended since the March ruling.

Fischer’s group has similar lawsuits pending against leases sold in New Mexico and Montana, and she said she expects that courts will order BLM to review those leases, too, unless the bureau acts first.

“I think the same flaws are occurring across the BLM’s oil and gas program,” she said.

BLM headquarters did not reply to emails seeking comment. Rachel Wootton, a spokeswoman for BLM’s Utah office, sent a statement saying “BLM Utah is committed to responsible development of our nation’s energy resources and is therefore conducting further NEPA analysis” of the leases it has suspended. She said the review could result in the leases being canceled, amended or reissued with no changes.

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