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BLM Ordered to Redo Climate Reviews on Utah Oil Leases

The BLM has been ordered to pull back dozens of oil and gas leases, including ones in the Black Dragon Canyon wilderness area in Utah, because it did not properly analyze the effects that oil exploration would have on climate change. (Antropova/AdobeStock)
The BLM has been ordered to pull back dozens of oil and gas leases, including ones in the Black Dragon Canyon wilderness area in Utah, because it did not properly analyze the effects that oil exploration would have on climate change. (Antropova/AdobeStock)
December 10, 2019

MOAB, Utah — A court challenge by conservation groups has forced the Bureau of Land Management to pull back dozens of oil and gas leases in western states, including in Utah. A federal judge ruled last week that the BLM failed to properly study the effects of climate change when it approved the sale of 130 leases across the state.

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Living Rivers and The Center for Biological Diversity. Diana Dascalu-Joffe is an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity and said federal officials were in a rush to fulfill the Trump administration's goal of "American energy dominance."

"BLM realizes the error of their ways,” Dascalu-Joffe said. “Their rush to lease hundreds of thousands of acres completely violated the law which requires an in-depth analysis on the future impact of the development of oil and gas on those lease parcels."

BLM officials have said once the new reviews are complete, they will issue a decision for each lease that will either cancel it, modify its terms or lift the suspension without any changes.

The leases were among about 240 the BLM issued from 2014 to 2018 under the National Environmental Policy Act. Dascalu-Joffe said one of the goals of the lawsuit was to change the way the bureau evaluated oil and gas leases.

"We want the agency to be able to do this analysis at a programmatic level as to how all of this leasing and the energy-dominance agenda of the Trump administration is impacting the climate as a whole,” she said.

Landon Newell is an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. He said the BLM is not doing a complete job of considering the effects of other environmental factors, such as wildlife, water quality or air quality.

"BLM has become so focused on getting the climate analysis right that it essentially punted on any analysis for these other resources,” Newell said; “which is really problematic for the agency and is creating an entirely new mess that the agency is going to have to deal with in the future."

Newell said since the Trump administration began in 2017, the pace of selling access to public lands has accelerated after BLM officials were ordered to identify and remove regulations that were restricting the issuance of oil and gas leases.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT