Landmark climate victory: Federal court rejects sale of public lands for fracking

Judge: Department of the Interior Illegally Ignored Climate Consequences of Oil and Gas Leasing, Drilling Must Cease

Denver, CO March 20, 2019 – In a landmark victory for climate, health, and public lands, a federal judge late yesterday rejected the sale of public lands for fracking and ordered a halt to drilling on more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming.
“This ruling is a triumph for our climate,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director. “To limit greenhouse gas emissions, we have to start keeping our fossil fuels in the ground and putting an end to selling public lands for fracking. This decision is a critical step toward making that happen.”
“Fracked gas is dangerous for people and terrible for the climate,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “This latest court win is not only a victory for our health and future, but it reinforces that the oil and gas industry doesn’t get a free pass to pollute.”
While the ruling applies to Wyoming, it has implications for public lands across the American West and is a major rebuke to the Trump administration’s anti-environment, anti-climate agenda.
The suit targeted more than 460,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming that were leased to the oil and gas industry in 2015 and 2016. An interactive map of these lands is available here >>
When leasing, the Bureau of Land Management refused to calculate and limit the greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas development.
During the case, the judge decided to address 303,000 acres of leases in Wyoming first. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras held the Bureau “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing,” violating federal environmental laws.
“It’s high time the federal government was held accountable for the costs of sacrificing our public lands for dirty oil and gas,” said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney for WildEarth Guardians. “This win demonstrates the Trump administration can’t legally turn its back on climate change.”
Last fall, scientists with the Department of the Interior released an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the production and consumption of fossil fuels from public lands. The report found these emissions, which come from federal coal, as well as offshore and onshore oil and gas, accounted for 25 percent of all U.S. climate pollution.
At the same time, federal climate scientists released Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which sounded new alarms over the costs of climate change to the U.S. The report called for “immediate and substantial global greenhouse gas emissions reductions” to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
“With the science mounting that we need to aggressively rein in greenhouse gases, this ruling is monumental,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and Energy and Communities Program director for the Western Environmental Law Center. “Every acre of our public land sold to the oil and gas industry is another blow to the climate, making this ruling a powerful reality check on the Trump administration and a potent tool for reining in climate pollution.”
More than 25 million acres of public lands in the U.S. have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. More than 20 million of these acres are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
Under Trump, the pace of leasing public lands for oil and gas development has surged. In 2018, nearly 4 million acres were put up for sale to the oil and gas industry. So far in 2019, the administration auctioned off or proposed leasing more than 2.1 million acres.
Judge Contreras’ ruling today signals that unless the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management begin fully accounting for the climate costs of all oil and gas leasing in the U.S., the agencies will be running afoul of federal law.
The Judge stated, “[The] agency must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions generated by past, present, or reasonably foreseeable BLM lease sales in the region and nation.”
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