On January 9, 2020, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed suit in the DC District Court challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) approval of over 2,000 oil and gas leases. The leases were sold through 23 different lease sales, spanning from December 8, 2016, to March 20, 2019, and they cover over two million acres of public lands across five western states—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The conservation groups contend that BLM continually fails to fully account for climate change impacts associated with oil and gas leasing.

For each lease sale, the conservation groups allege that BLM failed to: (1) properly quantify direct greenhouse gas emissions from the lease parcels and analyze the climate impacts of these direct emissions; (2) properly quantify indirect (downstream) greenhouse gas emissions and analyze the climate impacts of these indirect emissions; and/or (3) properly quantify cumulative greenhouse gas emission and analyze the cumulative climate impacts in conjunction with past, present and reasonably foreseeable oil and gas development both in the western region and nationally.

In addition, the groups attack the BLM Oil and Gas Leasing Program as a whole, alleging that BLM has never analyzed the Program’s contribution of greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts at the programmatic level. The groups go on to allege that BLM has also not analyzed the climate impacts in the Resource Management Plans, to which many of the challenged lease authorizations tier.

The conservation groups request, among other things, that the court declare BLM’s lease authorizations violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its implementing regulations, vacate all of the more than 2,000 challenged leases, and order BLM to prepare an environmental impact statement analyzing the climate impacts for each lease that includes, among other things, foreseeable cumulative impacts from BLM’s Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

This lawsuit is the second phase of litigation of its kind in the DC District Court. In 2016, the same conservation groups challenged BLM’s issuance of 473 oil and gas leases, issued through 11 different lease sales, covering over 460,000 acres of land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. Again, the main argument was that BLM did not sufficiently consider climate change impacts prior to issuance of the leases. On March 19, 2019, the DC District Court handed the conservation groups a partial victory by holding that BLM violated NEPA by failing to fully consider the climate impacts from the Wyoming oil and gas leases, but not the others. The court ordered that BLM suspend nine oil and gas leasing decisions, authorizing the issuance of 282 leases in Wyoming, until BLM completed additional analyses on the climate change impacts. In response to this decision, BLM also voluntarily suspended oil and gas leases in Utah and Colorado to complete additional environmental analyses.

This case could have far reaching implications for not only the individual leases being challenged but also the BLM Oil and Gas Leasing Program as a whole.