Trump administration suspends oil and gas production on 130 plots in Utah after challenge

Trump administration suspends oil and gas production on 130 plots in Utah after challenge
© Courtesy of Stephen Trimble / www.stephentrimble.net

The Trump administration has suspended the production of oil and gas on 130 plots in Utah following a legal challenge by environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Sept. 27 quietly issued suspensions of operation and production on 117 plots of previously leased land in Utah and restricted the sale of 130 plots total due to the ongoing litigation, which alleges that officials did not consider greenhouse gas emissions when granting the oil lease sales.

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“The BLM has concluded that it is necessary to suspend the referenced leases and complete further environmental analysis,” the individual notices read.

The decision came after environmental groups legally challenged several lease sales, alleging that the agency failed to satisfy federal environmental laws by not considering the effects of climate change on federal land prior to leasing them for fossil fuel exploration.

In March, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of one such argument by environmentalists, finding that the environmental considerations behind Obama-era lease sales in Wyoming were inadequate. The temporary halt on roughly 300,000 acres was the first time the Trump administration’s energy agenda had been blocked for not considering climate change.

The BLM in its September letter said a separate, similar case filed by environmentalists criticizing lease sales in Utah showed clear “parallels” with the Wyoming ruling. Therefore, the administration was suspending production to complete more environmental analysis.

“This is another setback for the Trump administration’s irresponsible, illegal decision to lease these beautiful public lands for fracking and drilling,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “BLM officials are starting to recognize the error of their rush to ignore climate science and public health to unleash a fracking frenzy. Now the administration must acknowledge the irreparable harm these irrational decisions have on our fragile climate.”

BLM officials said the agency remains "committed to responsible development of our nation's energy resources" and will be conducting further environmental analysis focused on potential greenhouse gas emissions associated with drilling. The agency said once those analyses are completed the government will decide whether to lift the suspension, modify the lease terms or cancel the leases in their entirety. 

This story has been updated.