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BLM Suspends Northern Arizona Oil and Gas Leases As Environmental Groups Drop Lawsuit

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The Interior Department has suspended oil and gas leases on 4,200 acres in eastern Arizona following a lawsuit brought by conservation groups. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, they allege officials violated federal law by not conducting proper environmental review.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Wild Earth Guardians accuse the Trump administration of failing to follow the National Environmental Policy, Endangered Species and Historical Preservation acts when it approved three leases in Navajo and Apache counties 2018. The Bureau of Land Management has now suspended the leases, and in exchange the groups will drop the suit.

"It puts everyone back at square one. In order for anything to happen on those leases now they have to undergo the full reviews that they were required to. And short of that there can be no activity on the leases," says Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that challenged the administration.

Conservationists suspect energy companies are actually interested in the rich deposits of helium near Holbrook adjacent to Petrified Forest National Park, and worry extraction methods like acid fracking could put the nearby Coconino Aquifer and Little Colorado River at risk.

The BLM in a statement says it will conduct an environmental assessment of the suspended parcels, and that before any drilling occurs on leased lands a full review is required.

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Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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