Judge Squashes Lawsuit To Shut Down Wyoming Drilling Permits

Gov. Mark Gordon and other groups defending Wyoming’s oil and gas industries are praising a federal judge for squashing a lawsuit brought by environmental groups to negate 900 oil and gas permits.

Leo Wolfson

November 03, 20234 min read

Cyclone Drilling 1 31 23
(Courtesy Cyclone Drilling)

Wyoming’s oil and gas industries scored a win in federal court this week.

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians against the federal Department of Interior, state of Wyoming, Petroleum Association of Wyoming and others to shut down hundreds of oil and gas drilling permits.

The lawsuit aimed to negate about 900 permits issued since 202 for the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled Wednesday that the environmental groups failed to establish any specific harm caused by issuing the individual permits. She said the groups failed to “allege a cognizable injury” or show standing to sue.

Gov. Mark Gordon hailed the ruling as a win for the state and its legacy fossil fuel industries that exposes “extreme environmental groups” that aren’t based in Wyoming or have offices in the state.

Had the case been upheld, the applications for permits to drill would have been vacated. It also would have impacted more than 3,000 drilling applications issued in the Permian Basin in New Mexico. 

Petroleum Association of Wyoming President Pete Obermueller is pleased with the ruling.

“This is welcome news for an industry that has had to weather an onslaught of opposition from those who wish to shut us down,” Obermueller said in a statement. “Vacating 900 APDs in Wyoming would have wreaked havoc on Wyoming’s economy, our schools and communities from Gillette to Pinedale and Cheyenne to Wapiti, which is why PAW intervened in this case on behalf of every Wyoming resident.”

Conservation Perspective

The environmental groups argued in their 254-page lawsuit that endangered species are being pushed to extinction by climate change and that the permits would lead to degradation of public lands and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

They also said the BLM failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on the effect greenhouse emissions from the wells would have on threatened and endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act, and failed “to take a hard look at environmental justice” in their permitting decisions. 

The plaintiffs alleged that the oil and gas wells “will likely emit 490-600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent … greenhouse gas pollution over the course of their lifespans.”

Big Money

Wyoming is the second largest oil and natural gas producer on federal lands and produces much more energy than it consumes.

These industries provide significant revenue for the state’s public schools and local governments. They also paid 51% of all property taxes and 80% of all severance taxes in Wyoming and supported 58,780 jobs in the state in 2022.

“This ruling is a welcome decision for the people of Wyoming and a victory for American families who need affordable oil and gas that is produced responsibly in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a Friday press release. “I will continue to work with our Attorney General to protect Wyoming’s interests, and I thank our legal team for its work on behalf of the state.”

The case was originally filed solely against President Joe Biden’s Department of Interior in June 2022. Despite previous promises to cut off new drilling, Biden’s agencies have issued thousands of permits since taking office, in some ways outpacing former President Donald Trump’s administration.

A number of fossil fuel companies and advocacy groups moved to intervene in the case, including Anadarko, Petroleum Association of Wyoming, the state of Wyoming, Chevron, American Petroleum Institute and the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. In November 2022, Chutkin let them join the case.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter