Oil Well Drilling Rig at Midwest, Wyoming

COVER PHOTO: A drilling rig at work near the community of Midwest, Wyoming. Sun Times photo by Darryl L. Flowers

The Interior Department requested last week that a federal circuit court allow it to revise environmental reviews of oil and gas leases sold in 2015 and 2016 in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

As E&E News reported, the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) asked the District Court for the District of Columbia permission to redo environmental reviews through the National Environmental Policy Act of oil and gas leases sold from the Obama administration. Adjusting the reviews is an attempt by the department to head off a potentially worse court decisions in the three states.

The request comes on the heels of the department losing a court decision that ruled it had not properly reviewed lease sells for greenhouse emissions in what E&E News called a win for environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility campaigning against the burning of fossil fuels.

The ruling, issued by Judge Rudolph Contreras in March, said that Interior officials at BLM had a duty to provide estimates of greenhouse gas emissions that result from drilling operations or other downstream uses of the oil and natural gas produced by the Wyoming leases.

In his ruling, Judge Contreras said, “By asserting that these crucial environmental analyses are overly speculative at the leasing stage and more appropriate for later, site-specific assessments, BLM risks relegating the analyses to the ‘tyranny of small decisions.’ NEPA is intended to avoid that outcome. Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling.”

Contreras continued by stating, “Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling.”

The government has been blocked from issuing new permits on the leases under review since Contreras’s ruling until the issues surrounding NEPA reviews are resolved. But the environmental plaintiffs are looking to go further. They aren’t satisfied with just the halt of new permits but are also seeking to bar any permits to drill on the land in question in the suit.

Justice Department attorneys, who expressed confidence that a revision will allow both sides to seek a resolution outside of the courtroom, said: “This will avoid judicial resolution of issues that may well be resolved upon remand and further study.”

-WesternWire