A judge has halted plans for oil and gas drilling in vast areas of Wyoming and Montana, citing concerns about the bird that lives in the sagebrush.
CHEYNE, VAIO – A judge has halted plans for oil and gas drilling in vast areas of Wyoming and Montana, citing concerns about a bird that lives in sagebrush.
The US Bureau of Land Management did not adequately consider how drilling would affect large sage grouse, nor the option to suspend drilling in the bird’s prime habitat, Idaho US District Judge Ronald E. Bush delivered the verdict on Wednesday.
Bush ordered more studies of the potential effects on the bird before proceeding with drilling.
The drilling will take place on more than 600 square miles (1,500 square kilometers) of federal land scattered across energy-rich states. The Bureau of Land Management auctioned off hundreds of leases at Sage Grouse Habitat in four sales in 2017.
The sage grouse is a chicken-sized, primarily land-dwelling bird whose numbers have declined significantly from the millions that lived in the US West at the borderline. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2010 that the bird deserves special protection, but said in 2015 that conservation efforts led by Wyoming made it unnecessary.
The environmental group suing the leases praised Bush’s decision.
Eric Molver, executive director of the Western Watershed Project, said in a statement on Thursday, “This decision sends a very strong message that the BLM can no longer lease public land for fossil fuel development without weighing the consequences for sensitive land and wildlife can give.”
BLM spokesman Brad Purdy declined to comment, citing the agency’s policy not to discuss the ongoing lawsuit. Agency aides in the case included the Western Energy Alliance industry group and the state of Wyoming, where Republican Gov. Mark Gordon was weighing whether to appeal.
“The governor is disappointed with Judge Bush’s decision but pleased that the leases have not been vacated,” Gordon spokesman Michael Perlman said by email.
The ruling comes amid a moratorium on a federal oil and gas lease imposed by the administration of President Joe Biden while it studies the effects on climate change.
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