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Oil and gas leases in Moffat and Routt counties questioned in federal lawsuit

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Oil and gas leases in Moffat and Routt counties have been called out in a multi-state lawsuit against two federal agencies.

The claim was filed by the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility at the end of August and identifies 397 oil and gas leases across 379,960 acres of pubic land in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah that Guardians claim were not properly evaluated by the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department before approval.

According to a news release from Guardians, “Leasing conveys a right to companies to drill and frack as long as they want, meaning large swaths of public lands have been transformed into major industrial sites at the expense of recreation, wildlife, and clean air and water.”

In its claim, Guardians assert that BLM and Interior Department did not follow the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, when approving the leases and has failed consider the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of oil and gas leasing.

The lawsuit states that between 2008 and 2010, “(greenhouse gas) emissions from onshore federal oil and gas reserves resulted in the release of 612,309,429 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.”

The term carbon dioxide equivalent describes all greenhouse gases as a common unit — for any amount and kind of greenhouse gas, it signifies the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the equivalent global warming impact.

Of the 397 leases questioned in the lawsuit, 152 are in Colorado across 110,841 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland north of Denver, BLM-managed lands in the Yampa River Valley and the HD Mountain east of Durango. All of the leases are from 2015 and 2016.

Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director Jeremy Nichols said the goal is to ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia void the challenged leases, or at least enjoin any drilling.

“We’re asking for the court to say BLM broke the law in determining that it was appropriate to issue these leases and the remedy is to overturn them,’” he said.

Nichols said Guardians is also hoping the lawsuit will prompt a moratorium on new oil and gas leases while a comprehensive overview of the federal leasing program is completed — similar to what the Interior Department has undertaken with federal coal leasing.

“BLM needs to push the pause button when it comes to oil and gas leasing throughout the west,” he said.

Routt County Commissioner Timothy Corrigan said if the federal government made a mistake with the leases in question, then it should be amended.

“If there were some technical glitches in the leasing process around the federal government’s due diligence on NEPA requirements, then the federal government needs to go back to the drawing board and address those issues,” he said.

But he said he does not support the idea of pausing all federal oil and gas leasing.

“That doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me, especially if the federal government’s goal is to reduce CO2 emissions,” he said. “The quickest and easiest way to do that is by increased production and use of natural gas.”

Corrigan said if the lawsuit is successful and the leases are overturned, he believes the economic impact would be more visible in Moffat County.

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he is increasingly frustrated by Guardians’ presence in Northwest Colorado.

“I was angry with WildEarth Guardians before, now I’m livid,” he said.

Kinkaid said he plans to channel the energy into “making Moffat County better” and advocating for the area.

“I’ll do everything I can as a commissioner to fight against this action,” he said. “We’re going to keep Moffat County moving forward in spite of WildEarth Guardians.”

In addition to asking that the leases be voided and a review of the leasing program be preformed, one of the lawsuit’s major themes is connecting greenhouse gasses produced from oil and gas use to climate change.

“The Interior Department is in climate denial,” Guardians staff attorney Samantha Ruscavage-Barz said in a statement. “We’re breaking global temperature records every month and every month Interior ignores climate impacts and leases more and more oil and gas from public lands. When does it stop?”

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.

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