Judge blasts feds’ ‘sloppy’ climate work in oil case
BILLINGS, Mont — A U.S. federal court once again blocked new oil and gas drilling permits on Wyoming public lands in a ruling Nov. 13 that rebuked the Trump administration for its “sloppy and rushed” analysis of climate change impacts.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said the administration’s Bureau of Land Management failed to look closely enough at climate change impacts from oil and gas extraction and consumption on almost 500 square miles of land in Wyoming.
Contreras first blocked drilling on the parcels in 2019, saying the bureau needed to consider greenhouse gas emissions from fuels extracted on public lands in the past, present and foreseeable future, including in neighboring states such as Colorado and Utah.
In the ruling, he said the land bureau’s latest effort to tally up the impact of those emissions had again failed and “does not adequately consider the climate change impacts of the oil and gas leasing decisions.”
The judge pointed to numerous flaws in the bureau’s climate change assessment such as failing to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple lease sales over time. He also highlighted simple math errors by officials that taken together “suggests a sloppy and rushed process” lacking scientific accuracy.
The ruling marks the latest in a string of court actions over the past decade that have faulted the U.S. for inadequate consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when approving oil, gas and coal projects on federal land.
Land bureau spokesperson Richard Packer said the agency’s leasing decisions were “based on the best available science.” He said that the agency would continue pushing Trump’s agenda supporting domestic energy production, but declined to answer whether government attorneys will appeal Friday’s decision.
State to help petroleum industry with coronavirus funding
CHEYENNE — Wyoming will use federal coronavirus relief funding to help petroleum companies move ahead with oil and gas drilling projects interrupted by the pandemic and plug idle wells.
North Dakota already has been using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding for well plugging and cleanup. Totaling as much as $81 million, the funding through the two major oil-producing states has qualified support from land stewardship advocates who don’t usually side with the petroleum industry.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the once-booming U.S. oil industry, reducing travel and lowering demand for gasoline and jet fuel, proponents said.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, in a statement on Nov. 10 announced up to $15 million in assistance through a new Energy Rebound Program.
Using the money to plug and clean up abandoned oil and gas wells is a good idea, but subsidizing them to complete oil and gas wells isn’t, Bob LeResche with the Powder River Basin Resource Council land stewardship advocacy group said Nov. 12.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act fiscal stimulus gave each state at least $1.25 billion to soften the pandemic’s economic effects. States have until the end of 2020 to use the money.
As of late 2019, Wyoming had over 3,000 “orphan” wells that companies have abandoned without plans to put back into production or plug and clean up, according to an Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission report.
Many of the industry’s troubles predate the pandemic. A decade of low natural gas prices caused a bust that left the Rocky Mountain region littered with thousands of idle coal-bed methane wells, many of them in northeastern Wyoming.
State treasurer says methane proposal has loopholes
SANTA FE — New Mexico’s state treasurer is calling on state environmental regulators to close loopholes in proposed rules aimed at reducing emissions of methane and other pollutants from the oil and natural gas industry.
State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, confirmed Nov. 11 that he has joined with a long list of socially responsible investment groups that are citing gaps in proposed regulations from the Environment Department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. They outlined their position in a letter sent a day earlier to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Lujan Grisham’s administration has said New Mexico stands to have some of the most expansive rules for addressing methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry after many meetings with industry experts and environmentalists.
Proposed rules by the energy agency deal with waste due to venting and flaring in oilfields. The draft rules released by the environment department target oil and natural gas equipment that emit volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
Eichenberg and investment groups that include Christian religious orders say the environmental agency rules would exempt the vast majority of wells in New Mexico from leak detection and repair requirements, in reference to exceptions for low-production wells.
They also say regulators should add more enforcement provisions to ensure companies don’t routinely release or burn off excess natural gas.
Oil and gas industry representatives have said they support efforts to reduce pollution and that many companies already have taken steps to address leaks and upgrade equipment. They also have cautioned state regulators that one size will not fit all because the producing basins in New Mexico have different considerations and that there needs to be a balance that allows for development to continue.
Mutual of Omaha replaces Indian chief logo with African lion
OMAHA — Mutual of Omaha on Nov. 12 unveiled a new corporate logo depicting an African lion, replacing the Indian chief head that had been the symbol of the insurance and financial services company for 70 years.
The Omaha, Nebraska-based company announced in July its plans for a change as corporations and sports teams around the country face increasing pressure to dump nicknames and depictions that reference American Indians amid a nationwide movement calling for racial justice.
The company said in a news release that its new logo not only projects protection and strength but also delivers a strong brand connection to the company that might be as well known by for its longtime sponsorship of the wildlife television program “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”
The new logo now appears on the company’s website. Officials said that over the next year, it will replace the old logo on the company’s printed materials, signs and on the face of its headquarters building in Omaha.
Judge overturns sports betting rule
BILLINGS — A judge has overturned a rule that limited sports betting in Montana to businesses with an alcoholic beverage license after an investment group challenged the ruling.
Lewis and Clark County District Judge Kathy Seeley found on Oct. 28 that in creating rules to carry out the new sports betting law, the Montana Lottery ran contrary to lawmakers’ intent when it required an alcoholic beverage license, The Billings Gazette reported.
Attorney Lyndon Scheveck, who filed the lawsuit, said that the rule now gives the investment group more leeway to launch a business that would offer sports betting without having to get an alcoholic beverage license.
Sports betting began in Montana in March this year, officials said. Since its rollout, it has netted $531,000 in revenue to about 250 businesses that offer it. People have bet $9.7 million and collected about $8.5 million in winnings during that time, The Gazette reported.
Jennifer McKee, a spokesperson for Montana Lottery, said the agency is reviewing the decision and determining next steps.