Another Legal Victory: BLM will Have to Consider Climate Impacts of Fracking on Federal Lands October 28, 2020

Photo: WildEarth Guardians

In another legal victory, PSR and two fellow plaintiffs forced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to consider the climate consequences of selling leases for fracking on 1.8 million acres of public land in the American West.

In response to a lawsuit filed by PSR, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center, the Trump Administration will have to conduct a legally required review of the climate consequences of its leasing program across 2,700 square miles in Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

Fracking releases huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere, heating the climate and fueling massive threats to health and life:  deadly wildfires, more-frequent intense hurricanes, flooding, and more.

Reducing fracking on public lands would also yield immediate health benefits. The fracking Compendium published by PSR and Concerned Health Professionals of New York documents extensive health risks associated with oil and gas extraction, among them cancer, asthma and pre-term birth.

In response to the latest lawsuit, the BLM agreed that its actions flouted the law. In early October, the agency filed a motion with the court asking for a “voluntary remand” of most of its leasing, effectively conceding its violations by asking the court to give it a chance to fix its mistakes.

The agency requested a remand of 1.77 million acres of oil and gas leases, or 2,765 square miles, in Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.  The agency did not request a remand over the sale of nearly 130,000 acres of oil and gas leasing in Montana and New Mexico.

The suit was filed on the heels of a court win by the three groups in March 2019 in a virtually identical legal challenge. That case, filed in 2016, targeted the sale of more than 450,000 acres of oil and gas leases in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has ramped up oil and gas leasing on public lands under an “energy dominance” agenda. To accelerate the sale of leases, the U.S. Department of the Interior and BLM have rolled back environmental safeguards, streamlined environmental reviews, and eliminated public involvement.

The lawsuit comes as scientific sources increasingly support winding down and ultimately phasing out fossil fuel production as a key strategy to confronting the climate crisis.

A 2018 U.S. Geological Survey report found that oil and gas produced from public lands and waters contributes to 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.  And a 2018 report by the Stockholm Environmental Institute confirmed that ending public lands fossil fuel production could significantly reduce nationwide greenhouse gas emissions.

PSR educates health professionals and local communities about the health and climate effects of fracking (you can sign up for the upcoming Colorado medical symposium on fracking and health), publishes reports and white papers (see here, here and here), and testifies to federal agencies and legislatures.

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