April 26, 2023

Conservation groups file suit over oil and gas production on federal lands

Hannah Grover/NM Political Report

Various conservation groups, including the New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court alleging that the U.S. Department of the Interior has failed to respond to a petition for a rulemaking to phase out oil and gas extraction on public lands.

The petition was filed in January 2022 by more than 360 groups and calls for federal oil and gas production to reach near zero by 2035.

The groups filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.

“For our climate, we need to move beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible and that has to start with ending oil and gas extraction on public lands,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a press release. “Today’s lawsuit is about compelling rational leadership from the Biden administration and enforcing the reality that we can’t frack our way to a safe climate.”

The filing states that the Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies like the Department of the Interior to “give interested parties the right to petition for the issuance, amendment, or repeal of a rule” and that the law requires the agency to “conclude a matter presented to it within a reasonable time.”

In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth are listed as plaintiffs.

The groups say that new extraction of fossil fuels must end immediately and existing resource extraction operations must be phased out in order to avoid more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit—of warming above pre-Industrial levels.

“The world’s already developed, existing oil and gas fields and coal mines contain enough carbon to exceed the 1.5°C limit,” the lawsuit states.

Climate change is already leading to drought, extreme wildfire, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

The plaintiffs say that, despite the climate crisis, fossil fuel extraction on federal lands has tripled since 2012 and oil production in the United States could set new records in 2023 and 2024.

This story has been updated to correct the Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion.