BLM to reconsider Montana oil and gas leases after settlement with environmental groups

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Posted at 2:58 PM, Sep 07, 2022

HELENA — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it will reconsider more than 100 oil and gas leases in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, as part of a settlement agreement with environmental groups.

Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit in federal court last year, on behalf of WildEarth Guardians, Montana Environmental Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance. The groups challenged five lease sales conducted in 2019 and 2020, arguing the BLM’s environmental analysis didn’t adequately consider the potential impacts.

This week, the two sides filed their settlement agreement with the U.S. District Court for Montana. In it, the BLM said it would do additional analysis, then make its new decision on the leases. In addition, the agency agreed not to approve any more drilling applications on the affected lands until that new decision is made.

The lease sales, conducted in the last two years of the Trump administration, cover more than 58,000 acres of public lands. The plaintiffs claimed the agency hadn’t fully accounted for the cumulative impacts that these and other leases would have on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, or for the possibility that oil and gas development could affect nearby groundwater.

In 2018, WildEarth Guardians and MEIC sued over 2017 and 2018 oil and gas lease sales in Montana on similar grounds. District Judge Brian Morris sided with them in that case, and returned the issue to the BLM for further analysis. The environmental groups said the later sales showed the same flaws the court had identified.

According to the settlement in this case, the BLM’s additional analysis will “incorporate consideration of the social cost of greenhouse gases,” and it will be conducted in line with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s 2021 order putting more emphasis on considering climate change in decision-making.