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Environmental groups, land owners sue to block new oil and gas leases in MT

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GREAT FALLS - Two environmental groups and three landowners filed suit in federal court Tuesday to block 287 new oil and gas leases in Montana.

Wild Earth Guardians and the Montana Environmental Information Center argued in a filing in U.S. District Court that the Bureau of Land Management failed to properly account for potential groundwater contamination and climate change during its two lease sales of 150,000 acres in December and March.

On Dec. 12, the BLM sold the rights to 98,865 acres on 187 parcels in the Tongue River Valley in southeastern Montana. On March 13, the rights to another 46,200 acres on 83 parcels of public lands were sold near Livingston, the Beartooth foothills and next to the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monuments, which sparked protests.

“These lease sales are a direct threat to Montana’s future,” said Becca Fischer, a WildEarth Guardians spokeswoman.“The BLM’s environmental analysis for the March lease sale completely fails to quantify of the very real, direct greenhouse gas emissions that will result from allowing these areas to be drilled and fracked and both analyses fail to quantify cumulative impacts from greenhouse gases. This head-in-the-sand approach is completely unacceptable and illegal.”

Rising oil prices have helped add pressure to open new areas for drilling. A barrel of Brent crude oil, the typical national benchmark, sold for $79 Tuesday, and prices are rising in part because of pending U.S. sanctions against Iran, analysts say.

In Montana, The three landowners joining the environmental groups are David Katz, who owns property on the Stillwater River, and Bonnie and Jack Martinell, who own a Carbon County orchard.

The plaintiffs also noted that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke removed 17,000 of public land near Yellowstone National Park from the March sale after protests emerged.

BLM officials could not be reached for comment by MTN News Tuesday night, but they told other media outlets they don't comment on pending legislation.

In a news release announcing the results of the March sale, BLM officials noted that royalties from the leases are shared between the federal government and states. The March sale brought in about $190,000.

The suit:

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