U.S. green groups ramp up legal attacks on federal oil leases

Reuters | Nichola Groom | June 13, 2019

U.S. environmental groups fighting fossil-fuel development made headlines years ago with public demonstrations against big pipeline projects including the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL - only to be steamrolled by President Donald Trumps executive orders to approve them.

Now the so-called keep it in the ground movement has a new strategy to slow Trumps pro-oil agenda: Burying the administration in formal written protests and lawsuits challenging nearly every oil and gas lease it plans on public land.

Over the past three years, more than 90 percent of the nearly 4,000 land parcels offered by the government to drillers in the contiguous United States have drawn formal protests, compared to less than half prior to 2015, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Interior.

There is no avenue to file protests against Alaska leases because they are located in a region set aside specifically for drilling.

The protests slow down leasing, but are also a prerequisite for lawsuits seeking to force the administration to consider global warming in its drilling policy. Some of the resulting suits have yielded judgments to stall drilling in states such as Wyoming and Utah.

Weve already seen a surge in litigation over oil and gas leasing. There is sure to be more, ” said Jeremy Nichols, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, among the leading groups filing protests. “We are in the process of developing the next round.

The strategy has delayed processing times and costs for public-lands leasing, according to the Department of Interiors U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), because the government can’t lease acreage before responding to what are often long-winded arguments asserting threats to the climate and wildlife.

BLM spokesman Derrick Henry cited one 1,095-page document filed by WildEarth Guardians protesting an upcoming lease sale in New Mexico.

Frivolous protests on anti-fossil fuel sentiments or general opinions, ” he said, “are not helpful to the BLM in addressing legitimate protest concerns.”

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