Judge: Fracking Permits Must Count Future Climate Impact

Gilmer  E&E News

"This is the Holy Grail ruling we've been after, especially with oil and gas", said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians climate program director.

Under Trump, the pace of leasing public lands for oil and gas development has surged.

A spokesperson for the Department of Interior would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Contreras did not void leases already sold, but he ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to redo the environmental reviews used to approve the leases. So far in 2019, the administration auctioned off or proposed leasing more than 2.1 million acres.

"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", added Nichols. The federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages U.S. public lands and issues leases to the energy industry, to redo its analysis.

"The defendants and intervenors argued that lease site-specific analyses without access to site-specific variables would be speculative at best, would not help the BLM in making decisions "'and would undoubtedly be fruitless or impossible'".

The order is the latest of several rulings over the past decade faulting the USA for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when issuing leases for oil, gas and coal, but today's ruling appears to reach beyond previous rulings in saying the US must consider nationwide emissions from past, present and future oil and gas leases. The vast majority are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Only the leases in Wyoming were immediately addressed in Contreras' ruling, which blocks federal officials from issuing drilling permits until they conduct a new environmental review looking more closely at greenhouse gas emissions. "BLM's assessments fell short of NEPA's requirements".

Contreras urged BLM to take the responsibility to assess the leases' impact on the environment seriously. "The court is simply grading how the administration did analyzing the issues".

"That determination does not excuse BLM from giving serious consideration to the Court's concerns", Contreras wrote.

Until those documents are completed, he blocked the agency from issuing drilling permits on the 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". "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".

"With the science mounting that we need to aggressively rein in greenhouse gases, this ruling is monumental".

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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