A federal district judge has again sent the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) back to the drawing board on an environmental review of oil and gas leasing in Wyoming, citing inadequate consideration of climate change impacts.
In a ruling filed late last week, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit found that the BLM’s supplemental assessment of oil and gas leasing on federal land in Wyoming fell short of requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The judge remanded the assessment to the agency for further consideration. The supplemental assessment had been prepared in response to an earlier ruling remanding BLM’s previous environmental reviews of the leasing.
Siding with the plaintiffs in the case, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, Contreras concluded that based on issues of both methodology and accuracy BLM failed to conduct a rigorous enough analysis of the potential emissions impacts of the Wyoming leases.
The supplemental review contained a number of errors that made the BLM’s process seem “sloppy and rushed,” according to the judge.
Contreras chided BLM for mistakes such as dividing a regional emissions estimate by the incorrect number of states when attempting to calculate a per-state average. The agency also used an erroneous figure for U.S. oil and gas related emissions that inadvertently lumped in coal emissions with the total, according to the order.
“Errors of this nature — that can easily be corrected by double checking the work — may be flyspecks standing alone, but the cumulative effect of all the acknowledged errors undermines the court’s confidence in the other calculations” in the supplemental review, the judge wrote.
While Contreras remanded the environmental review, the judge stopped short of requiring BLM to prepare a more extensive environmental impact statement for the leasing.
The unfavorable ruling comes as the energy industry looks ahead to potential policy changes under President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s first term, including a possible ban on new drilling on federal lands.
A recent analysis from Evercore ISI found that U.S. explorers during October increased their oil and gas permit requests for the third month in a row, with an uptick in developing leaseholds on federal lands.
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