The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has lifted suspensions on 45 oil and natural gas leases in Montana that were caught up in the controversy over the impact of drilling on climate change (see Daily GPI, April 13).

The Interior Department agency removed the suspensions Tuesday on leases that cover 25,329 acres. Suspensions will be maintained on six additional leases, and two leases will continue under partial suspension. The BLM estimates that 6,667 acres will remain under suspension in Montana.

The 53 leases are among 61 issued in 2008 and suspended in March of this year as a result of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit involving parcels that BLM offered in Montana during four 2008 sales. Eight of the original 61 leases have been terminated. Environmental groups filed the lawsuit in December 2008 accusing the BLM of failing to address greenhouse gas pollution.

In March a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against BLM after the agency agreed to suspend the Montana leases until it determined the effect of drilling on climate change (see Daily GPI, March 24).

The suspensions were imposed while the BLM completed eight environmental assessments to review its leasing decisions for the affected Montana leases and other previously nominated parcels. Initially, 61 leases were affected by the settlement agreement. Four of the leases terminated earlier this year, and another four leases terminated while the assessments were conducted.

The leases where suspensions are being maintained primarily involve sage grouse and Yellowstone cutthroat trout issues that will be analyzed in resource management plans currently being written. When those plans are completed, the suspensions will be re-examined.

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