The U.S. must stop drilling for oil and gas on more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming because the Bureau of Land Management failed to account for the cumulative effect of the activity on global climate change, a federal judge in Washington ruled.
The Tuesday night ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a pair of environmental conservation groups against the Obama administration in 2016, challenging the BLM’s decision to lease federal lands for energy development in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.
“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,” U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said in a 60-page decision.
The BLM and the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the ruling.
Contreras faulted the federal government for merely summarizing the potential impacts without elaborating on the degree to which its decisions may contribute to climate change. He stopped short of voiding the Wyoming leases at issue, ordering the bureau to re-examine nine of its environmental assessments and “no significant impact” findings, and barring the BLM from authorizing new drilling in that state until it satisfies its environmental-law obligations.
The groups suing, Wildearth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, challenged the federal government’s approval of 473 oil and gas leases covering 463,553 acres across the three states.
The judge hasn’t yet issued his rulings on the challenged Colorado and Utah leases.
The case is Wildearth Guardians v. Zinke, 16-cv-1724, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).