Federal Judge James Browning tossed a lawsuit filed to overturn permits issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for oil and gas wells near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.
Contrary to environmentalists’ claims, BLM had complied the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) before issuing the permits, Browning ruled on April 23.
Obama Era Permits Approved
After a multi-year analysis of the potential environmental and cultural problems that could arise if oil and gas operations were allowed near the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, BLM, then under the administration of President Barack Obama, approved new permits for oil and gas production.
A coalition of groups representing the interests of some Native Americans and environmentalists, including Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and the Natural Resources Defense Council, represented in part by the Western Environmental Law Center, sued to overturn the permits in 2015, saying BLM had failed to follow proper procedures required by NEPA and NHPA
After reviewing all the documents BLM submitted to support its analysis of the oil and gas wells at issue, Browning concluded BLM satisfied the federal requirements and thus the permits were lawfully issued.
“After having an opportunity to review fully the case’s voluminous record, the Court concludes that the BLM meets the required documentation standards,” wrote Browning in his opinion. “The combined reports satisfy the documentation standards.”
“BLM adequately considered potential impacts near oil and gas wells,” Browning ruled. “Chaco Canyon and related sites are outside the zone of the challenged wells’ impacts,”
The plaintiffs have yet to decide whether to appeal Browning’s decision at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
‘Rejection of Obstructionist Practices’
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) released a statement saying Browning’s ruling served as a “rebuke,” to environmental and native groups filing the lawsuit.
“Judge Browning’s decision is a rejection of obstructionist practices routinely employed by activist groups to disrupt the oil and natural gas industry, New Mexico’s primary economic engine,” Ryan Flynn, NMOGA’s executive director, said in the statement. “This was never a case about the merits, it was yet another moment for activists to hijack economic growth for our state and put a halt to badly needed revenue for our schools and roads.
“[Judge Browning’s ruling is] a staunch rebuke to allegations leveled by activists that BLM did not adequately consider environmental and historical impacts according to the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Flynn. “Protecting the environment and maintaining New Mexico’s cultural treasures are of the utmost importance, and are a priority for every oil and natural gas operator. This decision underscores those commitments, and affirms the extraordinary steps taken to ensure responsible energy development on public lands.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.