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Climate concerns may block oil leases

BLM reviewing sales in Montana

BILLINGS – Climate change is prompting the federal government to increase its scrutiny of oil and gas lease sales on public lands – a potential first step toward reining in greenhouse gas emissions from drilling.

Under pressure from environmentalists, the Bureau of Land Management in recent weeks suspended or postponed the sale of almost 130,000 acres of leases in Montana and neighboring states.

The agency plans over the next several months to craft a first-of-its kind analysis of emissions from future development of the leases.

For now, the effort is limited to Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. But BLM officials and industry observers said a nationwide approach is inevitable as the Obama administration tries to reconcile energy demands with climate change worries.

“We are working on addressing it nationally,” said BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington.

Energy companies and industry groups are closely tracking the effort, concerned the Montana case could lead to new restrictions against drilling on federal lands from Alaska to Arkansas.

Oil and gas companies hold leases on 45 million acres of federal land nationwide. The majority of the leases are in Alaska and seven Western states – Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.