The Bureau of Land Management will review about 110,000 acres of oil and gas lease acreage in Colorado and another roughly 50,000 acres in Utah to consider the climate change impacts of that leasing.
The agency volunteered to do the additional environmental analysis based on a judge's ruling in March that it must assess the climate impacts of leasing 303,000 acres in Wyoming.
Much of the Colorado acreage is located in northwest Colorado, surrounding Craig and near the Wyoming border. Considerable northeast Colorado acreage also is involved.
The lease acreage in all three states was the subject of a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility. They challenged 20 decisions in 2015-16 authorizing sale of leases on more than 470 parcels in the three states.
At the suggestion of the parties, the court decided in 2016 in favor of a three-phase resolution of the case, starting with the Wyoming parcels.
In March, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the District of Columbia U.S. District Court ruled that the BLM "did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing."
In a BLM motion, the agency said it reassessed the adequacy of environmental documents supporting the Colorado and Utah leasing decisions in light of the March ruling and concluded "that voluntary remand for further analysis" is appropriate. Contreras granted the BLM's motion for remand Wednesday.
"This is another major development in our case and it means that we essentially won the entire case," said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians. "The judge ruled on the Wyoming leases first and with this latest motion, it means the BLM is conceding overall defeat.
"The BLM may go back and try to paper over its mistakes. However, this is still another step forward for climate accountability when it comes to fossil fuel production on our public lands. We will certainly be keeping up the fight, but getting the agency to acknowledge its mistakes is half the battle."
The BLM says it has prepared a supplemental environmental assessment curing the deficiencies the court found in the Wyoming environmental reviews.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, an intervenor in the case, called Nichols' comments "a novel take" on a procedural case regarding National Environmental Policy Act requirements.
"Obviously, it doesn't make sense for the government to waste its time litigating leases in Utah and Colorado with NEPA analysis that was not materially different than that for Wyoming. BLM quickly did the greenhouse gas analysis required by the judge, and can do the same analysis for the Colorado and Utah leases," Sgamma said.
"To follow onto Jeremy's comment — this was a paper victory that required BLM to do more paperwork, which it can do in fairly short order."
The BLM opposes an injunction to halt issuing drilling permits on the Colorado and Utah leases, though Contreras imposed such an injunction in Wyoming. Nichols says plaintiffs in the case will seek such an injunction in Colorado and Wyoming.
The BLM argues the law already prevents the government from approving permits not supported by adequate NEPA review.