Federal Judge Cancels Hundreds of Wyoming Oil and Gas Leases in Major Setback to Trump’s Pro-Drilling Agenda

Just your local gas production facility in Pinedale, Wyoming.
Just your local gas production facility in Pinedale, Wyoming.
Photo: AP

The oil and gas industry is having one rough week. A federal court judge cancelled nearly 300 oil and gas projects in Wyoming Tuesday after ruling that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ignored these projects’ climate change impacts.


U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras is asking the bureau to redo its nine environmental assessments and Finding of No Significant Impact analyses, which federal law mandates must include thorough research on the impacts the projects may have on climate change. These documents failed to meet the requirement because they didn’t properly forecast the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from any drilling, as well as the future use of the oil and gas that get extracted.

The judge took a hard look at BLM’s actions after groups, including WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, sued in 2016 over the federal agency’s leasing of some 460,000 acres of federal land across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming under former President Barack Obama. The suit covers 473 oil and gas lease sales, but the judge ruled on only 282 in Wyoming for the time being.

In his opinion, Judge Contreras wrote:

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.

While these groups launched the lawsuit under Obama, its outcome will be especially relevant today under President Donald Trump whose “energy independence” agenda has resulted in the slashing of public lands protections, in part to satisfy industry interests. Environmental groups have been staying vigilant through lawsuits and public comments—whether regarding offshore drilling, the reduction of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, or oil and gas proposals in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This judge’s ruling could set a precedent for the rest of his decisions on this case, as well as other scenarios where officials don’t properly analyze climate change impacts.

The ruling comes just a day after the Oregon Legislature passed a ban on offshore drilling that’s expected to receive the governor’s blessing. And the Pacific Northwest state is also working on banning fracking, a controversial extraction method that isn’t yet used there. The state House voted to approve the bill Monday, and it now heads to the Senate.


Like I said, it’s been a bad week for the oil and gas industry. And there are bound to be more.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


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Judge Contreras’ opinion was absolutely brilliant.

It basically says that the sum of the parts equals the whole, yes, but how long is a piece of string?

What this may force the EIS climate change impact study process to figure out what is and is not an acceptable impact, i.e. a quantification of impact to allow go/no go of a project.

That’s job creating for environmental consultants, man.