Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration from Drilling On Federal Land

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration from Drilling On Federal Land

In favor: "This is the Holy Grail ruling we've been after, especially with oil and gas", said Jeremy Nichols of advocacy group Wildlife Guardians. "In short, BLM did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing".

Interior officials did not immediately comment Wednesday.

More than 25 million acres of public lands in the United States have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. A recent study found the administration has made more than 13m onshore acres available for leasing, far more than any similar period under Obama.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that officials from the Interior's Bureau of Land and Management (BLM) should have considered climate change risks such as greenhouse gas emissions linked to the drilling before making the decision. Their challenge focuses on five lease sales BLM held between May 2015 and August 2016. Since greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change, the judge wrote, these analyses did not provide policymakers and the public with a sufficient understanding of drilling's impact, as required under the National Environmental Policy Act. "Federal Defendants continue to authorize the sale and issuance of hundreds of federal oil and gas leases on public lands across the Interior West without meaningfully acknowledging or evaluating the climate change implications of their actions", the two groups wrote in their lawsuit, according to Ars Technica.

"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, '" Contreras wrote in his memorandum opinion. "The court is simply grading how the administration did analyzing the issues".

But that determination does not excuse BLM from giving serious consideration to the court's concerns.

Until BLM completes its supplemental analysis, the agency may not approve new oil and gas wells on the Wyoming leases. "Compliance with NEPA can not be reduced to a bureaucratic formality", the judge wrote, "and the Court expects BLM not to treat remand as an exercise in filling out the proper paperwork".

"Fracked gas is risky for people and awful for the climate", said Barbara Gottlieb, Environment and Health Program director for Physicians for Social Responsibility. "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".

"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.

When Fortune asked about the Trump administration's oil-drilling plans, Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management at Interior, said in a statement: "President Trump has given clear direction that he wants to safely secure additional domestic energy from public lands on behalf of the American people... that will result in more jobs and economic growth, make America safer, benefit state and local conservation programs, and improve infrastructure".

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