Industry lawsuit targets ‘keep it in the ground’

By Ellen M. Gilmer | 08/11/2016 01:19 PM EDT

Oil and gas producers are taking the Obama administration to court over a slowdown in lease sales that they say is linked to the “keep it in the ground” movement.

Oil and gas producers are taking the Obama administration to court over a slowdown in lease sales that they say is linked to the "keep it in the ground" movement.

The Western Energy Alliance filed suit today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, challenging the Bureau of Land Management for failing to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales, as required by the Mineral Leasing Act. The industry has blamed multiple delays and cancellations of lease sales on the environmental movement targeting fossil fuel development on public lands.

"Notwithstanding the bluster of special interest groups that disregard the contribution independent producers make to domestic prosperity and national security, the overlooked point is that the ‘keep it in the ground’ approach is inconsistent with controlling law," said Mark Barron, a BakerHostetler attorney representing WEA. "With this lawsuit, we seek to ensure that Congress’ explicit legal directive — not cute lobbying slogans — drives federal land administration."


The lawsuit lists a slew of examples of BLM state offices that have held lease sales with what industry considers inadequate frequency. The New Mexico state office, for example, held just two lease sales in fiscal 2015, while the Montana/Dakotas office will hold no more than two during fiscal 2016. The Colorado office was just a tick ahead, with three lease sales in fiscal 2015 and two for 2016.

Critics of the agency’s approach say less frequent lease sales actually take a toll on the environment.

"The failure to hold regular lease sales consistent with the Mineral Leasing Act’s mandate results in unnecessary delays for — and can completely halt — development of certain federal minerals," BakerHostetler attorney Alex Obrecht said in a statement. "But more important, limiting leasing restricts operators’ ability to plan projects so that waste is reduced and development is executed in the most environmentally sensitive manner."

WEA represents more than 300 oil and gas producers and service companies operating across the West.

"Through protests and petitions, the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement is trying to coerce BLM into violating the law by stopping all leasing on federal lands," WEA’s Kathleen Sgamma said in a statement. "Yet without doing anything, activists could achieve the same goal just by leaving BLM to its own devices. Western Energy Alliance is simply asking the courts to compel BLM to follow decades-old law and hold quarterly lease sales in every oil and natural gas state."

BLM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.