Judge Orders Drilling Halted - Greenhouse Emissions Must Be Considered

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 01, 2019 | Last updated on April 04, 2019

A federal judge ordered a halt to drilling for oil and gas on more than 300,000 acres because the government did not properly consider the impact on climate change.

Judge Rudolph Contreras said the Bureau of Land Management failed to take a "hard look" at greenhouse emissions for 303,000 acres in Wyoming. He enjoined further drilling until the government can account for the environmental impact.

The decision is a blow to the Trump administration's pro-drilling policy, but it is not likely to stop the drilling for long.

Environmental Impact

In WildEarth Guardians v. Zinke, two environmental groups challenged the government's decision to lease federal lands for energy development in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. The judge ruled only on the Wyoming development, but addressed the national issue of climate change in directing the government to do a better job.

"Given the national, cumulative nature of climate change, considering each individual drilling project in a vacuum deprives the agency and the public of the context necessary to evaluate oil and gas drilling on federal land before irretrievably committing to that drilling," he said.

According to reports, the decision is a "groundbreaking climate change ruling." Jeremy Nichols, program director for WildEarth Guardians' Climate and Energy Program, said it is a "triumph for our climate."

"This ruling says that the entire oil and gas drilling program is off the rails, and moving forward illegally," he told The Guardian.

Impact on Workers

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, was disappointed with the ruling. He lamented its impact on workers in the oil and gas industries.

"Bringing our country to its knees is not the way to thwart climate change; we need solutions not grandstanding, and seeking carbon negative, not just neutral solutions," he said.

While the judge criticized the government for failing to address climate change, he did not void Wyoming's leases to the federal government. Instead, he ordered the BLM to re-examine its assessments and to stop drilling until the agency satisfies environmental laws.

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