The United States leads the world in natural gas production, and by the end of 2014, domestic oil production had reached its highest rate in thirty years. While this U.S. natural gas production occurred on both private and public property, this In Brief focuses specifically on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM oversees more than one hundred thousand onshore oil and natural gas wells on federal land. In 2008, the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) challenged a series of BLM oil and gas leases in Montana. MEIC alleged that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to consider methane emission reduction strategies in its leases.
This series of leases has been embroiled in a years-long procedural battle to determine whether MEIC has standing to challenge the BLM’s NEPA compliance regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the intervening years, methane capture and reduction programs have gained traction as cost- effective, recommended practices in oil and gas operations. In 2015, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to reassess standing. Should the district court find standing, the court will have the opportunity to evaluate the merits of MEIC’s claims. Given the large number of BLM administered wells, implementing methane mitigation alternatives in leases would likely have a profound impact on GHG emissions. The outcome of MEIC v. BLM may illustrate how the trend toward methane capture and reduction programs will influence future NEPA challenges to oil and gas leases.