Latest Lawsuit Challenges Trump Sale of Montana Public Lands for Fracking

Great Falls, Montana

Citing the failure of the Trump administration to protect the climate and clean water, a coalition today filed suit to overturn the sale of more than 58,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Montana.

The lawsuit comes as President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to end the sale of public lands to the oil and gas industry.

“Today’s lawsuit underscores the need for President-elect Joe Biden to make good on his promise to ban oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re holding the line on the Trump administration’s denial of climate change and embrace of costly fossil fuels, but to really turn the tide, we need the next administration to make climate and clean energy a number one priority.”

Filed in federal court, the suit aims to completely reverse the sale of 58,297 acres in Montana and North Dakota to oil and gas companies that occurred between July 2019 and September 2020. The coalition filing suit includes WildEarth Guardians, Montana Environmental Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance, all represented by attorneys with Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center.

The suit comes on the heels of a May 2020 federal court win that reversed the sale of nearly 150,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Montana. The judge held the Trump administration’s U.S. Bureau of Land Management illegally ignored the impacts of selling public lands for fracking to the climate and to groundwater.

“In its prior ruling, the court made clear that the government’s incomplete analysis violated the law,” said Tom Delehanty, Earthjustice attorney. “Yet the agency has continued leasing public lands to the oil and gas industry relying on the same unlawful flaws, which is why we are going to court.”

This court ruling is one of several that have overturned the Trump administration’s attempts to sell public lands for fracking in the western U.S. In March 2019, a federal court rejected the Bureau of Land Management’s sale of more than 300,000 acres in Wyoming and in early 2020, an Idaho judge overturned the sale of nearly one million acres in Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. In November 2020, a federal court again rejected the ale of public lands for fracking in Wyoming and in December 2020, a court also rejected the sale of 60,000 acres of public lands for fracking in Utah.

“Time after time, the Bureau continues to insist that the individual impacts of a given lease sale are so minimal as to absolve the Bureau of Land Management of the need to conduct meaningful analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Melissa Hornbein, Western Environmental Law Center attorney. “As long as the agency continues to ignore the fact that the climate crisis is fundamentally cumulative in nature, we will continue to seek judicial relief to correct this misapprehension.”

Hundreds of environmental, health, justice, and climate advocacy organizations have called on President-elect Biden to make good on his promise to end the sale of public lands for oil and gas extraction and to put new permitting and extraction on hold while the Bureau of Land Management addresses the climate consequences of fossil fuel development on public lands.

“It’s long overdue for our public lands to become part of the solution to the climate crisis rather than a source of plunder for the oil and gas industry,” said Michael Saul, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re suing to set aside these illegal oil and gas leases because the Trump administration has completely disregarded its obligation to consider the consequences of its reckless public lands decisions on our climate and water quality.”

More than 25 million acres of public lands in the U.S. have been leased to the oil and gas industry for development. In Montana, 2.1 million acres are locked up by leases to the oil and gas industry. Only half of all leased lands are actually producing oil and gas.

“In spite of the extreme urgency of the water and climate crises we face, the Bureau of Land Management has repeatedly ignored the clear evidence that significant water depletions and climate impacts will occur as a result of the lease sales we are challenging,” said Kate Hudson, Western U.S. Advocacy Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We are seeking to overturn these lease sales so that our communities, our Western waterways, our Native American Nations, and our planet will not be forced to pay the price.”

Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663,
Melissa Hornbein Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 471-3173,
Liz Trotter Earthjustice, (305) 332-5395,
Michael Saul Center for Biological Diversity, (303) 915-8309,

This post was originally published on Radio Free.