June 9th, 2020
Federal Judge Rules Against Drilling in Public Lands
Over the last few years there have been advances made to allow more oil and gas operations on public lands. As many know, the United States government owns vast amounts of acreage, especially in the western states. Lawmakers, lobbyists and activists have long debated the propriety of using those lands for fossil fuel production.
There are some arguments for both sides. Proponents point to the ability to continue to grow domestic oil and gas production to reduce dependence on foreign sources. Opponents question the effects the operations will have on the environment under the best of circumstances and point to significant leaks and accidents that have damaged animals and their habitats overs the years.
The correct answer for the majority of people is somewhere in between. Recently a federal judge in Montana had to face this question and cancelled oil and gas leases covering more than 470 square miles of land both in Montana and Wyoming. The judge ruled the Department of Interior did not do enough to try and foster oil and gas development in areas that would not affect certain endangered grouse species.
The lawsuit was brought by the Montana Audubon, the Wildlife Federation and other groups to challenge the process used to award the leases. The Obama administration had specifically delayed these leases because of environmental concerns. The Trump administration, like it has done on many fronts, appears to have specifically sought to overturn the Obama administration decision and, in doing so, may have rushed the approval process.
Attorneys believe this ruling could put millions of acres of oil and gas leases in jeopardy. I don’t know what the correct answer is on leasing these public grounds. I have seen enough oil and gas operator decisions and events to lead me to believe their operations and plans should be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb. With the prospect of potential United States Supreme Court hearings on these issues, our county will continue to wrestle with the political and moral issues at play.