VICTORY! Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Challenge

The Obama Administration sold more than 10 million acres of public land rights to the oil and gas industry, often for as little as $2.00 per acre. That’s an area 50 percent larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Olympic, Yosemite, and Ground Smoky Mountains National Parks, combined.  Nonetheless, the federal government refuses to disclose the impacts of this oil and gas leasing on our climate.

On behalf of WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, we challenged the federal leasing of 463,553 acres of public lands to the oil and gas industry. The lands opened up for fracking in recently include the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado, the Red Desert of southern Wyoming, and the Fishlake National Forest in Utah. This suit aimed to protect these and other public lands, while pressing for climate accountability.

This campaign sought a program-wide analysis of federal oil and gas program impacts on the climate and on taxpayers, and a moratorium on new leasing until that analysis is complete. The suit also advances the goals of the “Keep it in the Ground” movement, which aims to permanently halt new coal, oil, and gas leasing on public lands and waters.

In March 2019, we won the part of our case specific to Wyoming, halting oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres in the state. The broad-reaching victory will affect leasing throughout the U.S. with regards to climate analysis, and the scope of the impact has enormous potential to speed the country’s just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

WELC litigation also prompted the Bureau of Land Management to rescind the Grand Junction resource management plan by challenging the agency’s failure to analyze its potential harm to the climate. The plan, which the Bureau must now redo, opened nearly 1 million acres of public land in western Colorado to fracking and drilling and prioritized fossil fuel production over all other public lands values.

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