Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2016

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (801) 300-2414,

Legal Protests Challenge Fossil Fuels Auctions on 28,000 Acres in Wyoming, Montana, Dakotas

DENVER— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal administrative protest against a Bureau of Land Management plan to auction more than 1,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Montana and the Dakotas in May. Today’s protest follows another filed by the Center last week targeting a plan to auction 27,000 acres of oil and gas in Wyoming, also scheduled for May.

“Each new federal fossil fuel lease takes us closer to climate disaster,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center. “Leaving a livable climate for future generations requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground now, and we should start with the public lands that President Obama controls.”

The protests call on the BLM to abandon its auction plans and keep fossil fuels in the ground to protect the climate, wildlife and public lands. Both protests identify the plans’ failure to analyze climate impacts or consider an alternative that would suspend public lands fossil fuel development to protect the climate.

The Wyoming plan also contradicts recently adopted sage-grouse management direction to “prioritize” leasing outside grouse habitat; more than 75 percent of the acres to be auctioned are within grouse habitat.

“It’s difficult to trust BLM’s reassurances that it would work to keep oil and gas out of sage-grouse habitat when it turns around and immediately starts offering lease sales that are nearly nothing but sage-grouse habitat,” said McKinnon. The Montana protest also identifies BLM’s failure to protect habitat for at-risk grassland bird species, including the rare and sensitive Sprague’s pipit.

Today’s protest is part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” rallies opposed to federal fossil fuel auctions have been growing across the country, and have caused several of those auctions to be canceled.   

Download the protests here and here.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public lands like national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An August report by EcoShift consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that has not been leased to industry contains up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (D-Vt.) and others introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases.  Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download a letter from more than 400 groups and climate leaders urging President Obama to halt new federal fossil fuel leasing.  

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels(this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

Go back