Powder River Basin Resource Council sues federal government regarding BLM drilling project

GILLETTE, Wyo. — Western Watersheds Project and Powder River Basin Resource Council have sued the federal government regarding the Converse County Oil and Gas Project.

The Advocates for the West law firm is representing the conservation groups in the case against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management regarding the 5,000 oil and natural gas well project former President Donald Trump’s administration approved for the southern Powder River Basin of Wyoming, a Powder River Basin Resource Council news release said.

The complaint filed Sept. 7 said BLM’s “Directional Drilling into Federal Mineral Estate from Well Pads on Non-Federal Locations” wrongly claims that BLM lacks jurisdiction to impose any surface resource protections on Fee/Fee/Fed wells even though they are used to access federal minerals.

“Fee/Fee/Fed wells now account for one-quarter of all federal drilling permits nationwide, and the Bureau of Land Management erroneously claims to lack authority to regulate surface operations associated with the wells,” Advocates for the West Staff Attorney Sarah Stellberg said in the release. “This emerging trend of unchecked extraction of federal minerals poses serious risks to adjacent and downstream air, water, wildlife, public lands, and communities.”

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The release said the project will significantly impact air quality locally and regionally and wildlife, including birds of prey and sage grouse, through a special plan amendment that contains exemptions from traditional habitat protection measures.

Powder River Basin Resource Council board member and Converse County resident Maria Katherman said the Bureau of Land Management has begun permitting hundreds of the wells. She said truck traffic will increase on roads and increase dust where roads are unpaved, causing an air quality problem. Katherman said she’s also concerned about the development’s water consumption.

Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Erik Molvar, a biologist, said in the release that the BLM “has tossed aside all the usual and customary wildlife habitat protections.”

“Sage grouse populations in northeast Wyoming are already considered to be nearing an extinction vortex, and this massive expansion of wellfields, industrial disturbance, and habitat fragmentation could well finish off the sage grouse in the region, putting the entire Great Plains population at serious risk of extinction,” Molvar said.