A federal judge has agreed with activists that the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately consider greenhouse gas impacts from oil and gas consumption in its new resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.
Judge Lewis T. Babcock also found that the agency "failed to consider reasonable alternatives to oil and gas leasing and development" as part of its review of alternatives in the plan.
Babcock has ordered the plaintiffs in the suit to try to negotiate a remedy to the shortfalls in the BLM's review, and to submit written briefs on a proposed remedy if an agreement can't be reached.
His ruling came in a suit brought by the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, the Western Colorado Congress (now the Western Colorado Alliance), the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
It pertains to the Silt-based field office's administration of more than half a million acres of BLM-managed surface acres and more than 700,000 acres of BLM-managed minerals in Garfield, Eagle, Mesa, Pitkin and Routt counties.
The BLM's plan forecasts 6,640 wells being drilled into federally owned minerals over 20 years. It leaves more than 600,000 acres open to oil and gas leasing.
Babcock ruled that the BLM "failed, in part, to take a hard look at the severity and impacts of (greenhouse gas) pollution. Namely, it failed to take a hard look at the reasonably foreseeable indirect impacts of oil and gas.
"… BLM must quantify and reanalyze the indirect effects that emissions resulting from combustion of oil and gas in the plan area may have on (greenhouse gas) emissions," Babcock ruled.
Wilderness Workshop staff attorney Peter Hart said in a news release, "For years we have asked BLM to take a hard look at the impacts of oil and gas development on public lands, and protect some areas from this intensive use. On some issues we've made progress. In this plan, however, BLM basically left open all our public lands to future leasing and development. We deserve a more thoughtful approach to public land management, and the law requires it. This opinion makes that clear."
BLM spokesman Steven Hall said the agency is reviewing the decision.
Babcock ruled in the agency's favor on some aspects of the suit, finding that in its environmental review it took a sufficiently hard look at methane emissions and at impacts of oil and gas development on human health.
The BLM has contended that it provided sufficient information on indirect effects of oil and gas development. But it said it was limited in its ability to do so based on information available at the planning stage, and it cited the speculative nature of forecasting oil and gas production. It also says natural gas development would reduce greenhouse gas emissions if it displaces use of coal and oil.
"As a long-term Garfield County resident surrounded by oil and gas development on BLM-managed public lands, I am glad to see the BLM being held to a more rigorous level of analysis," Bob Arrington, a resident of Battlement Mesa and member of the Western Colorado Alliance, said in the plaintiffs' news release. "… This decision is a step toward ensuring that every BLM field office fully accounts for all the impacts on people living in the area when making these decisions."