BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. officials delayed lease sales on federal oil and gas reserves beneath more than 160 square miles (414 square kilometers) of public and private lands in eastern Montana in response to a recent court ruling on climate change, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokesman said Wednesday.
The 223 lease parcels had been slated for sale on June 12, but instead will undergo additional environmental analysis, Jon Raby said, the bureau's acting state director for Montana, in a letter announcing the delay.
Agency officials could not provide a timeline for the new analysis or say when the parcels would be available for sale.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in March ruled that government officials failed to fully consider the climate impacts of burning coal, oil and gas extracted from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
The basin has the largest coal reserves in the U.S. and lesser quantities of oil and gas. Morris said any new or pending lease sales in the area must be subjected to a detailed environmental review.
That ruling came in a lawsuit from environmental groups including the Western Organization of Resource Councils and Sierra Club. The groups argued that when federal officials drew up land management plans for the Powder River Basin they failed to acknowledge the large volumes of greenhouse gases that would be generated from burning the region's fossil fuels.
"One thing the court was clear about is the BLM cannot continue to ignore the real and significant impacts of fossil fuel development in the Powder River Basin," Shiloh Hernandez said, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the environmentalists in the case.
Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Alan Olson said the delay means Montana will have to wait that much longer to get its share of any leasing proceeds. It comes as state lawmakers struggle with budget problems that have triggered cuts to many programs.
There are no plans to cancel a June lease sale in Wyoming because it does not include any parcels in the Powder River Basin, BLM spokesman Brad Purdy said. For Wyoming lease sales in September and December, environmental studies are pending and Purdy said agency officials believe that work will be sufficient to comply with Morris' ruling.