Environmental Law

Judge blocks oil and gas drilling on Wyoming public land because US didn't consider climate impact

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A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has blocked new oil and gas drilling on public land in Wyoming because the federal government failed to sufficiently consider the cumulative impact on climate change.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled in a March 19 opinion that the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management had violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that federal agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions. The Washington Post, the New York Times, Courthouse News Service and Ars Technica have stories.

“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,” the 60-page opinion says.

Contreras enjoined new oil and gas drilling on leased Wyoming public land until the Bureau of Land Management updates its analysis.

The plaintiffs, nonprofit organizations WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, had sued in 2016 to challenge the Obama administration’s auctions of oil and gas leases on land in three Western states.

Jeremy Nichols, the climate change and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, stressed the importance of the decision in an interview with the New York Times.

“This is the first court ruling that specifically tears apart the Interior Department’s failure to take into account the climate change of impact on drilling, on a national scale,” he said.

Although the ruling applies to Wyoming, it has implications for public land across the United States, according to a press release posted at the WildEarth Guardians website.

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