Courts asked to block oil and gas leases over health and climate
Conservation and clean-air groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s resumption of oil and gas leasing on public lands. Oil and gas industry groups argue opening up more public lands for drilling will increase global supplies.
A new lawsuit hopes to reverse the BLM's recent approval of oil and gas lease sales on public lands across eight western states, including nearly 120-thousand acres in Wyoming, in part to protect public health.
Melissa Hornbein, with the Western Environmental Law Center, said regions surrounding federal oil and gas production face dangerous air quality issues—due to methane leaks, ground-level ozone, and toxic benzene released through flaring—that cause direct harm to human health.
"There are higher incidences of things like cancer, there are also much higher rates of things like childhood asthma, developmental impacts, maternal and fetal health impacts," Hornbein said.
The lawsuit claims the BLM failed to review the full climate impacts of the leases, including the amount of climate pollution left to burn in order to keep temperatures at safe levels. The oil and gas industry, raking in record profits as gas prices skyrocketed in the US and across the world, said the new leases will help bring more supply onto the global market.
Some Wyoming lawmakers welcomed the leases to boost state revenue and add jobs. Hornbein said oil and gas companies already are sitting on thousands of inactive leases.
"And it's really going to take a concerted effort to transition away from fossil fuels. But we're being fed this line that we can't survive without this. And the reality is we can't survive with them, for the long term," Hornbein said.
Some of the world's top scientists recently warned that climate pollution must go down within three years to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of a warming planet.
"When these lands are locked up under federal oil and gas leases which last ten years, and don't allow for other types of development, that is actively precluding the advancement towards use of federal public lands for renewable energy production," Hornbein said.