Court vacates nearly 300 oil and gas leases on public lands

Court vacates nearly 300 oil and gas leases on public lands

A federal court on Friday vacated 287 oil and gas leases issued by the U.S. government that covered 145,063 acres of land in Montana, deciding that the Trump administration did not adequately consider risks to the environment and water supply. 

“The Court does not fault BLM for providing a faulty analysis of cumulative impacts or impacts to groundwater, it largely faults BLM for failing to provide any analysis,” said the decision by Obama appointee Brian Morris, referring to the Bureau of Land Management.

He vacated the leases, which were sold by the administration to oil and gas producers between December 2017 and March 2018. 

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He also ordered the bureau to conduct further analysis of the environmental impacts of granting the leases.

The decision came in response to a suit filed on behalf of landowners and environmental groups. 

“The oil rush on Montana’s public lands put generational rural landowners at risk of losing clean water and the sustainability of their communities.” said a statement from Elizabeth Forsyth, an attorney at Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups. 

“The Bureau of Land Management was well aware that current oil and gas drilling practices would not protect sources of drinking water in these Montana communities, but rushed the sale anyway,” Forsyth added. 

BLM officials said the agency would evaluate the ruling and determine its next steps. 

“With all due respect, we disagree with the Court’s conclusion, and the BLM stands by its analysis in following the letter of the law to issue oil and gas leases in Montana,” said a statement from the agency. “Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this dispute and despite the attempts of radical, special interest groups, the Department and the BLM will continue to work towards ensuring America’s energy independence while preserving a healthy environment.”

The Trump administration’s continued lease sales on public lands have come under particular scrutiny in recent weeks as oil prices have plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic.