New oil and gas leases blocked after suit over mule deer, sage grouse

WYOMING – Earlier this week, a district court judge in Washington, DC blocked new oil and gas drilling leases across nearly 500 square miles in Wyoming. The decision was a result of a lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians concerned about mule deer migration corridors and sage grouse habitat.

The ruling halts new oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres in Wyoming. Environmental groups said they were concerned that March oil and gas lease sale, which included 148,909 acres of public land in Wyoming, included some of Wyoming’s most cherished landscapes like the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration corridor and habitat designated for the protection of Greater sage-grouse.

This month’s oil and gas lease sale came on the heels of a supplemental lease sale that took place at the end of February and concluded on March 1. During that lease sale, the oil and gas industry purchased leasing rights to approximately 527,000 acres of land, 10 parcels within the “Golden Triangle,” a region with the highest density of sage-grouse anywhere in the world.

US Senator Mike Enzi said, “This short-sighted decision by a judge in Washington, DC will not only damage Wyoming’s workforce and economy, it also sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Leasing public lands is vital for our continued efforts to keep energy prices low and create energy independence for the nation.”

Colleague Sen. John Barrasso agreed, calling the ruling a bad decision.

“This bad decision will hurt workers in Wyoming, reduce revenue for the state and slow America’s energy production,” Barrasso said. “Wyoming is a leader of protecting our environment and responsibly developing our natural resources.”

Rep. Liz Cheney responded said the decision reflects the litigation strategy used by far-left environmental extremists to thwart energy development in Wyoming.”

“It is yet another example why the administration needs to overhaul NEPA implementation across the federal government. I will continue to work with President Trump to pursue policies that restore the voice of local stakeholders in Wyoming and reduce the serial litigation imposed by radical environmental groups,” she added.

Pronghorn use extensive areas of Wyoming where oil and gas drilling occurs. (Tom Koerner, USFWS)

WildEarth Guardians heralded the news as a “massive blow to Trump’s energy dominance agenda.”

Connie Wilbert, Director of Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, said the fracking leases threatened Wyoming wildlife.

“The BLM’s latest oil and gas lease sale continues the agency’s steady march toward total energy dominance on public land above all other uses and values, and will speed the destruction of irreplaceable critical wildlife habitat,” Wilbert said. “More than a million acres of public land in Wyoming have been leased for oil and gas in the last year alone, including hundreds of thousands of acres of critical sage grouse habitat and big game migration corridors. If we value wildlife at all, we need to put the brakes on and protect critical habitats from energy development.”

Wyoming Outdoor Council conservation advocate John Rader said the BLM’s latest “firesale” includes tens of thousands of acres in the best sage-grouse habitat in the West as well as the same amount of mule deer migration corridors for a species that is facing dramatic population declines.

“This administration continues to say that it wants to protect migration corridors and, in fact, has promised to designate more protective corridors. But this lease sale proves those are hollow words,” said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton Senior Program Manager, National Parks Conservation Association. “The sale includes tens of thousands of acres that overlap with an identified and critical migration habitat for mule deer that connect all the way to Grand Teton National Park. We cannot afford any further decline in our wildlife populations and today’s sale only further threatens that.”

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