BLM suspends most oil/gas leases in Colorado

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

I should probably clarify that title a bit up front because this is one of the infrequent cases where the initials “BLM” do not refer to the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re talking about the Bureau of Land Management, an agency that wields far more power than it probably should without attracting nearly as many headlines. Under the direction of the White House, BLM has the ability to block off huge tracts of federal land and impose daunting fines on people for various sins of “land mismanagement.” But they also have the power to shut down the leasing of public land for energy exploration. That’s what they’re doing in Colorado now, putting the brakes on scheduled federal leases to the oil and gas industry. Part of the reason they are citing involves a small, plump bird. (Yahoo News)

The Bureau of Land Management will pause oil and gas leasing on 2.2 million acres of Colorado public land after environmental groups alleged its current management plan failed to consider climate impacts, according to a settlement.

The agreement was filed Thursday in Colorado federal court and requires the government to conduct a new environmental analysis of the climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on public lands in southwestern Colorado. The government also agreed to consider how the leases may impact the endangered Gunnison sage-grouse and its habitat.

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and others said in an August 2020 lawsuit that BLM had violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of its leasing decisions, when it approved the current 20-year plan.

If I was framing this story for Twitter it would probably go something like this:

Government: We need to produce more energy and reduce prices for you.
Also Government: We’re stopping oil and gas leases in Colorado to save the Gunnison sage-grouse.

BLM is responding to demands from some of the usual suspects whenever fossil fuel exploration questions arise. These include The Sierra Club, Citizens for a Healthy Community, and the Western Environmental Law Center. Their primary claim, assuming you couldn’t have guessed for yourself immediately, is based on climate change. They claim that the current BLM plan for the regions in question in Colorado fails to take into account the impact of the drilling leases on carbon emissions. Of course, the existing plan that was already approved was put in place under the Trump administration, so it has to go, at least in the minds of the environmentalists.

And then there’s the Gunnison sage-grouse. This otherwise unremarkable little bird has become something of a rockstar in the green energy world. The habitat for the bird has been cited in successful lawsuits to halt energy exploration and pipeline projects in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Invoking any potential threat to the ranges where the birds live can apparently sway the minds of courts in nearly every state where they live.

The thing about the Gunnison sage-grouse is that it’s a subspecies of a family of birds that are fairly ubiquitous around the country and generally aren’t all that endangered. We have various prairie chickens, spruce grouse, ruffed grouse, and at least three types of Ptarmigan, all of which basically fill the same ecological niche. Unless you live in a major urban area or out in the middle of a desert, you could probably go find one with little more than a short drive and a brief hike.

As we’ve discussed here repeatedly, we are facing an energy crisis in the United States and around the world unlike any seen in the modern era. And government “green energy” policies such as the ones that just passed in the supposed “inflation reduction act” are pushing the oil and gas industry to the brink in terms of viability. We need to bring our oil and gas production levels back up to where they were only three years ago, but the government continues to use any excuse to thwart them. I don’t know about you, but if I have to choose between the Gunnison sage-grouse and keeping the lights on, I’ll find some other birds to photograph in my spare time.