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New Mexico, Wyoming Oil and Gas Drilling Approvals Draw Lawsuit

June 15, 2022, 3:31 PM

The US Bureau of Land Management approved thousands of applications for permits to drill for oil and gas in New Mexico and Wyoming without taking the required hard look at the effects of their greenhouse gas emissions, conservation groups told a Washington federal court Wednesday.

BLM failed to consult with other agencies on the effect emissions from the wells will have on protected species, according to the lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The agency also failed to take action to prevent the “unnecessary and undue degradation of public lands,” the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians say in their complaint.

The groups say the agency violated the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Federal Land Policy and Management Act and should be blocked from approving more applications for permits to drill. The groups seek a court order voiding those approvals and sending the applications back to the agency for further review.

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The lawsuit stems from the agency’s approval of at least 3,535 applications for permits to drill in New Mexico’s Permian Basin and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Drilling the wells “will likely emit 490 to 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas pollution,” according to the complaint. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are causing irreparable harm to “virtually every ecosystem on the planet,” the lawsuit says.

BLM didn’t take a hard look at cumulative emissions and their effects in its environmental assessment, the groups say in their complaint. The agency also failed to mention environmental justice impacts, especially for communities disproportionately impacted by oil and gas pollution, the lawsuit says.

The agency was required to consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on the harms fossil fuel emissions pose to threatened and endangered species, according to the complaint. There’s no evidence that it consulted on species at risk in New Mexico or Wyoming, the lawsuit says.

“The agency’s cursory approval of more than 3,500 drilling permits contradicts President Biden’s pledges to address the terrifying threat of climate change,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement Wednesday announcing the filing.

Causes of Action: NEPA; ESA; FLPMA.

Relief: A declaration that the permit drilling approvals violate federal law; an order tossing and setting aside the permit approvals; an order preventing the agency from approving applications for permits to drill; remand back to the agency; fees and costs.

Response: The agency said Wednesday it does not comment on pending litigation.

Attorneys: The Western Environmental Law Center represents the conservation groups. Jason Rylander of Washington, D.C., also represents the Center for Biological Diversity. WildEarth Guardians also represents itself.

The case is Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Dep’t of Interior, D.D.C., No. 1:22-cv-01716, complaint 6/15/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at mearls@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com