The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will offer oil and natural gas parcels for sale in Montana and the Dakotas on Dec. 9, several months after the agency stopped bidding due to pressure from environmentalists. However, a major environmental group is threatening to challenge the decision in court.

A total of 135 BLM parcels in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota will be offered with stipulations proposed in the environmental assessments, as well as 88 U.S. Forest Service parcels within the boundaries of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, according to the BLM.

The agency earlier this year delayed bidding on 38,000 acres of parcels, all in Montana, while additional environmental studies were conducted (see Daily GPI, March 24). The BLM recently completed eight environmental assessments that reviewed the leasing decision for 57 suspended Montana leases, as well as several other parcels in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota that were previously nominated for leasing.

Of the total 223 parcels (BLM and Forest Service) to be offered in the December lease sale, 120 are in Montana, 96 are in North Dakota and seven are in South Dakota. The North Dakota offerings include the 88 Forest Service parcels.

"It's a fair assumption that we are quite disappointed with the BLM's decision," said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, director of the climate and energy program for the Western Environmental Law Center. The center still is reviewing the agency's decision, he said, adding that the "chance of litigation is likely."

"We're not saying stop oil and gas development. We're saying do it right," Schlenker-Goodrich said. He estimated that 1.8 Bcf of methane is emitted from production in the three western states each year. If that could be captured, it would result in savings of $9 million a year, he said.

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