Wyoming Files Second Federal Lawsuit About Oil & Gas Lease Pause
The State of Wyoming has filed a second lawsuit this week against the U.S. Department of Interior about its Bureau of Land Managment's decision to pause oil and gas lease sales from April through September 2021.
The state filed a petition on Monday in Wyoming U.S. District Court and refiled an amended complaint on Thursday, according to federal court records.
“This litigation is timely and vital to the interests of Wyoming citizens," Gov. Mark Gordon said in a press release Thursday.
"BLM’s decision to cancel lease sales sure seems to be a violation of both the letter and the spirit of the law,” Gordon said. “I firmly believe the pause in lease sales was politically driven and not based in law or fact.”
The Department of the Interior and the BLM said the pause was to review issues with the federal leasing program, and published its report in November 2021.
A report from WyoFile, based on data from Baker Hughes and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, found the drilling rig count tripled during the leasing pause.
In the first lawsuit filed in January 2021 - followed by amended petitions, the Chief Wyoming U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled the first-quarter lease sale postponements did not violate the federal Mineral Leasing Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, nor the National Environmental Policy Act.
Skavdahl also ruled that the State of Wyoming lacked standing to challenge anything beyond the first-quarter (January - March 2021) lease sale postponements.
In announcing the new lawsuit on Thursday, Gordon said the federal court ruling did not consider whether the Secretary's other cancellations violated the law.
The new lawsuit is targeted at the paused sales that should have taken place in the second and third quarters of 2021 and the third quarter of 2022.
"The BLM went 18 months without a single oil and gas lease sale and has yet to resume regularly scheduled quarterly lease sales," according to the press release.
Gordon said in the press release that he asked Attorney General Bridget Hill to examine the earlier federal court decision and she determined that the Secretary of Interior does not have the same justification it provided for missing subsequent lease sales.
The Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council was among 20 conservation groups that opposed the first lawsuit.
Resource Council attorney Shannon Anderson questioned the need for the new lawsuit. "If a judge rules in their favor, what exactly is going to happen?"
The grievances now are largely moot, Anderson said. "We can't go back in time."
However, the BLM still needs to create a program to address the problem of orphan wells on federal lands, she said.
"There is not a moratorium in place," she said.
Lease sales have been happening and there's one pending now, Anderson said. "There's more than enough leases out there."