U.S. judge again blocks Wyoming oil drilling over agency climate analysis

·2 min read

(Reuters) - A federal court judge on Friday for the second time in two years blocked drilling on more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming because the government failed to adequately consider its impact on climate change.

According to court papers, Judge Ralph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the environmental analyses for 282 oil and gas leases be sent back to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for additional study.

It was the second time Judge Contreras issued such a ruling on the same set of leases. On Friday, he said the supplemental analysis BLM produced following his 2019 order had come up short in its obligation to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act in part by failing to consider the cumulative impacts of leases in the region and country.

"Our commonsense decisions were based on the best available science," BLM spokesman Richard Packer said in an emailed statement, adding that the agency would continue to "support domestic energy production and conserve our environment."

The lawsuit by environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility alleged that the government, under former President Barack Obama, failed to account for emissions generated by oil and gas development when it leased parcels in the Western states of Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.

Friday's ruling only pertains to leases issued in Wyoming after five sales held in 2015 and 2016.

Though the leases were issued before President Donald Trump took office, his administration has fought the lawsuit as part of its strategy to expand oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

"This is clearly another powerful rebuke of the Trump administration's climate denial and pro-fossil fuel 'energy dominance' agenda," Jeremy Nichols, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, said in an email.

President-elect Joe Biden, who served as Obama's vice president, has pledged to end new oil and gas leasing on federal lands when he takes office next year.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Bill Berkrot)