By Nicole Pollack
Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Groups sue over lease sale


July 7, 2022

CASPER — A dozen environmental groups filed two separate lawsuits on Wednesday challenging the federal oil and gas lease sale underway in Wyoming. The sale is the state’s first under President Joe Biden.

Both lawsuits were filed less than a day after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized its offerings: roughly 170 parcels spanning about 144,000 acres across the West, with the bulk of the prospective leases — 123 parcels and close to 120,000 acres — located in Wyoming.

The BLM removed a handful of tracts from the sale, including the only one that would have been available in Utah, in response to concerns raised during the public protest period, but stuck otherwise to the shortlist it released in April.

It dismissed many environmental groups’ objections to its environmental analysis altogether.

“Once they told us they’re rejecting our arguments for addressing our concerns, there’s really nothing left to do but move to court,” said Mike Freeman, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, which sued over Wyoming’s lease sale on behalf of the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth.

The lawsuit argues that the BLM failed to address the effects the leases would have on Wyoming’s wildlife and groundwater or on the climate, violating multiple federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act.

“For every one of the other sales that (the BLM is) holding this month, it is offering just a very limited number of oil and gas leases,” Freeman said. “The Wyoming lease sale is particularly egregious.”

“These groups are trying to conjure up a legal precedent to support their agenda of absolutely no oil and natural gas leasing and development anywhere,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of oil and gas industry group Western Energy Alliance, said in a statement.

“Public lands are managed in a balanced manner,” Sgamma added. “Balance is a word these groups don’t understand.”

But the 10 environmental groups that are concerned about the lease sales’ contribution to climate change and that have sued the BLM over every lease up for auction have a different concept of balance.

“Global climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced,” the lawsuit reads.

It argues that the Biden administration can no longer justify its finding that new oil and gas leasing on federal lands would have no significant impact on the environment.

“Even if they just offered one lease, we would be very disappointed, and in no way would we say that that’s acceptable,” said Jeremy Nichols, director of the climate and energy program for WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs.

Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit was “another attempt by anti-energy development activists to shut down oil and natural gas drilling and take down Wyoming communities with it.”

WildEarth Guardians has successfully challenged thousands of federal oil and gas leases issued in Wyoming and other Western states, often on the grounds of climate change.

In mid-June, joined by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Environmental Law Center, both also parties in Wednesday’s filing, WildEarth Guardians sued over the environmental analysis underpinning more than 3,500 drilling permits issued in Wyoming and New Mexico since Biden took office.

“Removing production from federal lands will do nothing to reduce demand for petroleum products, but rather force production to basins with less regulatory oversight,” McConnaughey said, “exacerbating the very impacts the plaintiffs seek to avoid.”

WildEarth Guardians doesn’t want all permitting on federal lands to cease — yet.

“We are still heavily dependent on oil and gas, and we acknowledge that the reality is there’s going to be some oil and gas production that has to happen,” Nichols said.

The group wants any new permits issued by the BLM to promote production in developed oil and gas fields and discourage exploratory drilling.

“We’re not talking about turning off the tap, today or tomorrow,” Nichols said. “But we’re talking about taking very deliberate and intentional steps forward to help our nation and our world transition away from fossil fuels.”


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