Immeasurable absurdity: drilling halted on 500 square miles of BLM land
In an inaugural win for the poster child of “climate change,” radical environmental groups recently succeeded in halting new oil and gas drilling on more than 500 square miles of BLM leases in Wyoming. The ruling by a District Court judge in Washington, D.C., declared the BLM failed to consider the impact of the “whole life cycle” of the products of drilling. But the triumph for the enviros may be short lived.
According to Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance, the case is “ripe for appeal,” and will likely be reversed. “The judge ignored decades of case law, and particularly ignored precedent from the circuit court above him,” she said. “It is not based in law and needs to be overturned.”
The concept of whole life cycle analysis for climate change is an emblematic issue for environmental groups like WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility, plaintiffs in this case. The groups argue that the current stringent environmental impact analyses required on federal lands are not enough. Now they want each well site to be accountable for the entire value chain of the product leaving that well. Which is basically impossible – just as they would like.
According to Sgamma, there are some “Holy Grails” that leftist environmental groups operate under. One is the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), which has been a notable burr under the saddle for a long time to both the oil and gas industries as well as much of agriculture. It was a blatant attempt to control much more than water. If WOTUS had succeeded, allowing the EPA jurisdiction over any dry, ephemeral stream, irrigation ditch or duck pond, it would essentially have put one government agency in charge of managing 85 percent of the country. President Trump has opposed WOTUS, and the administration is in the process of changing the rule to the new Clean Water Act.
With WOTUS dead in the water, climate change is the tactic of choice for the leftists. If anything could possibly make WOTUS seem comparatively small, climate change may just do that.
“They want impacts analyzed on every possible scenario of where that oil and natural gas might go – whether exported overseas, burned on a stovetop, used for transportation – however that retail consumer uses the product, they want all the potential greenhouse gas emissions analyzed for their possible impacts on climate change,” says Sgamma. “That’s impossible to do. You produce oil and natural gas, you sell it, and you don’t know where it’s going to go. It’s a great way to tie up any kind of development using paralysis by analysis.”
In a comparative agricultural scenario, a farmer who grows corn would have to predict where that corn goes after leaving his or her farm. What happens if it is consumed or burned, if it is fed to humans or animals, what types of transportation modes deliver it, what the emissions are from any possible scenario, what the impacts are to the environment and what likelihood are they to cause climate change.
Steve Degenfelder is a veteran landman for Kirwood Oil & Gas, headquartered in Casper, Wyo. He says the ruling affected 25 of their current leases in Wyoming. “It’s a small part of Kirkwood’s existing lease hold, but still it’s important in that we don’t want to see any of our leases burdened by litigation.”
Degenfelder says he is confident in the current analysis process of the BLM. Every lease requires a thorough National Environmental Policy Act review and a finding of no significant impact before proceeding. “The BLM conducts an excellent analysis on every action we do, and it addresses those concerns,” he says. “The public process is very open and transparent.”
Degenfelder says he feels under the guise of whole life cycle and climate change, the plaintiffs are asking BLM to quantify something that is unquantifiable.
“When you purposefully try to get the federal government to measure something that is immeasurable, your ultimate action is to try to delay things,” he says.
In addition to outlining an impossible scenario, Sgamma says the ruling is also faulty in that it requires an agency to overstep its jurisdiction. Once the oil or natural gas leaves the lease, they are no longer under the authority of the BLM, so to require the BLM to conduct a NEPA analysis further downstream is outside its jurisdiction and not required by law.
The enviro camp perhaps got lucky in getting the case assigned to a sympathetic, Obama-appointed judge, Rudolph Contreras. Statements online from plaintiffs called the ruling “a triumph for our climate” and a “powerful reality check on the Trump Administration.”
“They are very excited,” says Sgamma, “because they’ve tried it in many other courts, but this is the first time this tactic has been successful.”
The whole climate change issue in general is not just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. currently has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than any other country. “It’s not about that,” says Sgamma. “It’s simply a drive by the leftist environmental lobby to have government control over everything.”
Sgamma says claiming that oil and gas drilling must be halted to preserve the environment is a false choice. “We can develop oil and natural gas, and we can protect the environment,” she says. “We continue to innovate, reduce our environmental footprint on the land, reduce wildlife fragmentation and reduce impact.”
“When every land use decision is controlled by government under the guise of climate change – it’s the perfect issue,” she says. “If you can force every action to be controlled through climate change regulation, then you control all human activity.”
The defendants have 60 days to appeal the ruling.