by Taylor Darby, a 2013 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at the Washington Legal Foundation and a student at Texas Tech School of Law.
Methane emissions, and their contribution to climate change, are one of the many reasons environmental activists routinely offer as support for banning oil and gas extraction techniques such as hydraulic fracturing. Several recent developments call into question the viability of this argument. First, in April, the Environmental Protection Agency reduced its estimate of how much methane is emitted during natural gas production. Second, on June 14, a federal district court judge rejected activists’ efforts to block oil and gas leases on public land based on alleged harm from methane emissions.
The suit brought by Montana Environmental Information Center, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, and WildEarth Guardians has put the pursuit of domestic energy on nearly 80,000 acres of land on hold for over two years. Their federal environmental law weapon of choice: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), under which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must assess the environmental impact of the oil and gas lease sale. BLM did the assessment, but of course the plaintiffs felt it was inadequate. The groups alleged that BLM “fail[ed] to adequately consider climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gases before it approved the lease sales.”
Plaintiffs challenging government assessments under NEPA must first, of course, prove they have Article III standing to sue. The groups asserted that “the release of methane gas being emitted from the oil and gases leases at issue . . . will cause global warming and climate change, which, in turn, will present a threat of harm to [the environmental groups’] aesthetic and recreational interests in lands near the lease sites by melting glaciers, warming streams and promoting beetle-killed forests.” Continue reading “Federal Judge Shuts Down Activists’ Obstruction of Oil and Gas Leases”