To "bring more certainty to industry and in light of expected litigation," the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Thursday delayed upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota to complete additional environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act to determine the potential impact on climate change.

The next lease sale had been scheduled for Tuesday (April 13) and included 129 parcels in Montana and the Dakotas.

Until the additional environmental reviews are completed, BLM agreed last month to suspend 61 Montana oil and gas leases issued in 2008 that were subject to a lawsuit filed late that year. In March a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against BLM after the agency said it would suspend the Montana leases until it determined the effect of drilling on climate change (see NGI, March 29).

"Since we agreed to conduct additional environmental reviews on the 2008 leases, it only makes sense to complete additional environmental reviews before we offer new acreage for leasing," said BLM Montana State Director Gene Terland.

"By taking this additional time, the BLM will be able to provide assurances to industry so that it can move forward with greater certainty in leasing parcels from the BLM and developing oil and gas resources," the federal agency said.

Many of the planned BLM lease sales across the West for years have been protested on various grounds, but the climate change issue has taken on increasing importance.

In late March the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) sent a letter to Terland informing him that the Montana Environmental Center, Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project and WildEarth Guardians were protesting the entire lease sale scheduled in April for Montana and the Dakotas.

"This protest is premised on unresolved concerns regarding climate change and BLM's management of oil and gas leases in the region," wrote WELC's Sarah McMillan.

The 20-page letter noted that climate change was an "intensifying problem -- and opportunity -- for BLM. We appreciate BLM's recent efforts to address climate change, but are concerned that BLM has resisted efforts to weave climate change into its decision-making processes beyond cutting and pasting boilerplate text, which acknowledges, but does nothing about, climate change.

"BLM must move beyond such boilerplate text and take concrete, meaningful, on-the-ground action to mitigate climate change by reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions from federally authorized oil and gas activities and protecting and restoring ecological resiliency to ensure that Montana's iconic landscapes, wildlife, rivers and communities can withstand the cumulative impact of oil and gas development and climate change."

BLM's Mary Apple said Friday the agency planned to complete the reviews by late this year. No lease sales will be rescheduled until the reviews are completed, she said.

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