BLM suspends some lease sales to review GHG emissions

The Bureau of Land Management office in Billings, Mont., said Apr. 8 that it delayed some oil and gas lease sales pending BLM’s completion of environmental reviews on possible greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas activities.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Apr. 9 -- The Bureau of Land Management office in Billings, Mont., said Apr. 8 that it delayed some oil and gas lease sales pending BLM’s completion of environmental reviews on possible greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas activities.

Lease sales covering 91,000 acres in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota were scheduled for Apr. 13. The sale was to include 129 parcels in the three states.

The Western Environmental Law Center had filed a protest concerning the scheduled sales, saying it represented environmental groups concerned about methane emissions during natural gas production on public lands.

BLM’s Montana State Director Gene Terland noted that BLM previously suspended 61 Montana oil and gas leases issued in 2008 covering 38,000 acres. In a March settlement reached in US District Court for the District of Montana, BLM agreed to review possible emissions from oil and gas field activities on the 2008 leases.

“Since we agreed to conduct additional environmental reviews on the 2008 leases, it only makes sense to complete additional environmental reviews before we offer new acreage for leasing,” Terland said.

The reviews fall under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). BLM said the reviews will enable the agency to “provide assurances to industry so that it can move forward with greater certainty in leasing parcels…and in developing oil and gas.”

The Western Environmental Law Center filed a federal lawsuit in December 2008 concerning the 2008 leases in Montana. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Montana Environmental information Center, Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, and WildEarth Guardians. The groups said they wanted to ensure that the oil and gas industry uses technologies and practices to reduce air pollution.

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States intervened in the federal case on behalf of lease owners, Kathleen Sgamma, IPAMS director of government affairs, told OGJ.

Sgamma said BLM indicated it will complete the NEPA reviews in 3-6 months. “We’re very encouraged they have a plan to continue leasing in 2010,” she said.

Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center said the organizations sought the NEPA review in an attempt to protect landscapes, communities, and wildlife.

“This agreement honors our crown jewels–Glacier National Park, the Rocky Mountain Front, and the vast and beautiful regions of Eastern Montana–from the very real threat of climate change,” Jensen said.

Sgamma said a separate lawsuit is pending in New Mexico regarding BLM and NEPA.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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