By Derf Johnson
Reducing and eliminating the combustion and use of oil and fracked gas must occur in order for the world to avoid the worst impacts associated with climate change. However, the industry is complex, and the sources of emissions are diffuse and diverse.
Recognizing this reality, MEIC has prioritized oil and gas drilling, transportation, and combustion. In regard to extraction and transportation, MEIC is focusing strategically on some of the major decision points that allow the industry to extract oil and gas on public lands and transport it for later combustion. We’ve included the status of some of this work here, which will certainly be ongoing as we further pressure the government and the industry to transition to cleaner and renewable sources.
Litigation of Lease Sales
MEIC and our partner organizations legally challenged a number of lease sales for Montana which were conducted by the Trump Administration from July 2019 through Sept. 2020. The challenge was based upon the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) failure to analyze water and climate impacts associated with the potential sales. The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) and Earthjustice are representing MEIC and our allies. This lease challenge follows on the heels of earlier litigation, where a federal district court judge in May 2020 found that BLM had cut corners in regard to its evaluation and analysis of climate impacts. More information is to come, but we are confident that the BLM can’t simply ignore oil and gas impacts on the climate when conducting lease sale activity.
Protest of New Lease Sales
While President Biden has talked a big game about his Administration’s desire to address the climate crisis, his actions do not necessarily match his rhetoric. In fact, U.S. oil production during President Biden’s first year in office was higher than in two of the four years Donald Trump was president.
Recently, President Biden proceeded with another quarterly oil and gas lease sale, including parcels here in Montana, totaling 144,000 acres across the West. MEIC and our partner organizations, represented by WELC, filed official protests regarding these lease sales, noting that BLM is not legally required to proceed with the leasing activity and that the leases are antithetical to the President’s stated goal of preventing catastrophic climate change.
As part of its process for determining how lands should be managed, BLM is required to develop Resource Management Plans (RMPs), which provide a big-picture analysis of which lands will be dedicated to specific activities, including for fossil fuel exploitation. BLM’s Montana Field Office developed an RMP that was riddled with errors, including a failure to fully analyze alternatives for decreased leasing of acreage for fossil fuel exploitation. After its issuance, MEIC and our partner organizations, represented by WELC, challenged the RMP in federal court. A hearing was held in March 2022, and we are now awaiting the judge’s decision.
Once oil and gas are extracted through drilling, they need to be transported, primarily via pipelines. Pipeline impacts to water are often permitted under a “nationwide” permitting scheme administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This “one size fits all” permitting scheme allows for pipeline developers to fast-track permit development with little to no analysis and no public input. This scenario played out with NorthWestern’s proposed pipeline under the Yellowstone River for the Laurel gas plant and lack of opportunity for public comment. MEIC and our partner organizations are challenging the use and application of the nationwide permitting scheme for its failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. A hearing is scheduled for early June.
This article was published in the June 2022 issue of Down To Earth.