Biden admin blocks more than 1.5 million acres from oil drilling after eco groups’ legal challenges

The Biden administration proposed a plan to lock up nearly 1.6 million acres of public lands from oil and gas development across western Colorado in response to multiple legal challenges filed by environmental groups.

In a draft supplemental environmental impact statement announced Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued so-called resource management plans for its Grand Junction Field Office and Colorado River Valley field offices which oversee mineral leasing in the area. The proposal would restrict the two offices to leasing just 239,000 acres and 143,000 acres, respectively, for fossil fuel production, a total reduction of about 80%.

‘Public participation is key to the development of Resource Management Plans,’ BLM Upper Colorado River District Manager Greg Larson said in a statement. ‘This new analysis will ensure the BLM’s management of these areas will best serve our multiple use mission for the future.’

BLM’s proposal comes after years of legal challenges spearheaded by several environmental groups that argued the federal government failed to take climate change and greenhouse gas emissions into consideration when formulating its resource management plans, which are issued by field offices to outline how they will manage designated lands for the next 20 years. 

In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the resource management plans for the Grand Junction Field Office and Colorado River Valley field offices, opening up the vast majority of lands to fossil fuel leasing, exploration and production. However, eco groups led by the Colorado-based Wilderness Workshop challenged those resource management plans.

In the case involving the Colorado River Valley plan, a federal court ordered the BLM to reconsider its oil and gas leasing strategy, handing a victory the environmental plaintiffs in 2018. And in 2021, shortly after President Biden took office, a federal judge approved BLM’s voluntary request to rescind its Grand Junction plan over climate concerns.

Both the 2018 court ruling and 2021 voluntary remand forced BLM to start over and file a new draft supplemental environmental impact statement issuing new resource management plans Thursday.

‘I’m very encouraged to see BLM listening closely to local communities who have been asking for more than a decade for the agency to protect wildlands, wildlife, water and our climate,’ Will Roush, the executive director of Wilderness Workshop, said in a statement. 

‘The draft plan considers common sense closures to new oil and gas leasing of additional public lands with documented community and conservation values,’ he continued. ‘This planning area contains some of our state’s most important wildlife habitat, treasured recreation areas, wildlands that should be protected for future generations, critical water resources, famed Colorado scenery and Indigenous cultural sites.’

However, BLM’s proposal was criticized by the Western Energy Alliance, a leading fossil fuel industry trade group, and several Republican lawmakers who argued it represented the administration’s latest attack on domestic energy production.

‘The political leadership at Interior knows this but wants to designate areas as low potential and ineligible for leasing because that’s a way to stop exploration and development on more federal lands,’ Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma told Fox News Digital.

‘Closing areas designated as ‘low potential’ is a way to stop development of the very promising Mancos shale, further suppressing economic growth and job creation on the West Slope,’ Sgamma said.

As part of its justification for the proposal, BLM stated in its draft statement that much of the land blocked off isn’t oil-rich and could be eligible for other uses. 

Under the proposal, the agency would further create new areas of critical environmental concern on more than 100,000 acres of public lands.

‘Today’s proposal from the BLM to remove leasing for oil and gas development in Colorado amidst record high energy prices will continue to exacerbate the economic burden this Administration has placed on hard-working families,’ said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., who chairs the Congressional Western Caucus. 

‘Time and again, the Biden Administration acts at the will of radical environmental groups who are determined to end resource development on public lands,’ he continued. ‘The Western Caucus strongly opposes this proposal that will only push energy prices to new record highs.’

‘The Biden Administration’s latest plan to bar new oil and gas leasing across roughly 1.6 million acres of Colorado land is an attack on America’s energy security,’ added Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck. ‘Under this proposal nearly 600 oil wells will be slashed over the next 20 years, forcing us to rely on foreign adversaries for our energy supply.’

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