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Court: Closer Look at Oil and Gas Leases in Wyoming

PHOTO: The San Rafael Swell area that straddles Wyoming and Utah is of interest to oil and gas developers, and has been the subject of a two-year court case. Courtesy Bureau of Land Management.
PHOTO: The San Rafael Swell area that straddles Wyoming and Utah is of interest to oil and gas developers, and has been the subject of a two-year court case. Courtesy Bureau of Land Management.
March 15, 2013

LARAMIE, Wyo. – Before putting an oil or gas lease up for auction on public land, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is supposed to consider the effects on wildlife, water and air quality.

Concerns that the BLM hadn't done a thorough job of that led the U.S. Interior Department to put a hold on 118 oil and gas leases sold in Wyoming and Utah, and that sparked a two-year legal battle decided this week by a federal appeals court in Denver.

The court sided with environmental groups and the Interior Department. Melanie Kay is an attorney with Earthjustice.

"The sort of status quo shouldn't be 'lease before you think,'” she says. “It should be, 'think before you lease.' And you know, as we've stressed all along in the litigation, these are everyone's public lands – it's not the energy companies' public lands."

The Western Energy Alliance and some developers brought the suit, saying leases are supposed to be issued promptly after an auction. More than 70 of the leases in this case ended up being approved by the BLM, and the energy companies didn't pursue some of the others.

Nada Culver, director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center, says wilderness quality and sage grouse habitat should have been considered, as well as any protests that had been lodged.

"It is common sense, but now it is also officially the law,” she points out. “It's up to them to make an informed decision before they try to lease public lands. We're depending on them, and the law tells them to do it."

Culver says the outcome of the case indicates the BLM shouldn't assume land is appropriate for drilling just because a developer has recommended it.


Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY