Great Falls – Today, WildEarth Guardians, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and three local landowners moved to protect Montana’s clean water and climate from oil and gas drilling and fracking. The groups, represented by Western Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s decision to approve 287 oil and gas leases totaling almost 150,000 acres in south central, north central, and southeastern Montana.
“BLM has not done its homework,” said Laura King, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “The BLM’s analyses avoid giving key calculations and context that would allow the public and decisionmakers to understand the true costs of selling the leases, and to make informed choices among alternatives.”
“These lease sales are a direct threat to Montana’s future,” said Becca Fischer, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate Guardian fighting oil and gas. “The BLM’s environmental analysis for the March lease sale completely fails to quantify of the very real, direct greenhouse gas emissions that will result from allowing these areas to be drilled and fracked and both analyses fail to quantify cumulative impacts from greenhouse gases. This head-in-the-sand approach is completely unacceptable and illegal.”
At issue are two BLM oil and gas lease sales: one held on December 12, 2017 and one held on March 13, 2018. In the December sale, the BLM sold 98,865 acres (187 parcels) in the iconic Tongue River Valley in southeastern Montana in the competitive and noncompetitive sales. At the March sale, the BLM offered up 46,200 acres (83 parcels) of public lands near Livingston, Montana, the Beartooth Front, and even one parcel directly next to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument. Thirty-six parcels, including the parcel adjacent to the Breaks, sold at the March competitive and noncompetitive sales.
The lease sales come after Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke removed 17,000 acres of public lands near Yellowstone National Park from the auction block from the March sale in response to intense public pressure from conservation groups and in order to address environmental concerns.
Even so, the pace of federal public lands giveaways to the oil and gas industry is drastically increasing in 2018. In 2017, the BLM auctioned off more than a million acres of public lands for fracking in six Western states. The BLM’s lease sales for the first half of 2018 in those same states already total 1 million acres or almost double the pace of last year.
“The American West is currently under attack from corporate oil and gas interests set on committing us to another 40 years of dirty fossil fuels,” said Fischer. “We need to take action now to protect our climate and keep federal fossil fuels in the ground.”
Oil and gas leasing on federal public lands is a major contributor to global warming in the United States. Leasing opens the door for oil and gas drilling and fracking, and more fossil fuel burning. Reports indicate that 20 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to fossil fuel development from federal public lands and waters.