A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked an industry effort to release federal oil and gas leases in two western states.

The decision affirmed a 2011 court decision that backed a Department of Interior order not to issue 118 oil and gas leases in Wyoming and Utah, citing possible effects on wilderness areas and wildlife habitats.

Energy producers sued the department over the order, and several conservation groups such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and National Wildlife Fund intervened.

“This is a victory for Wyoming and Utah’s beautiful public lands,” said Melanie Kay, Earthjustice attorney for several conservation groups that intervened in the case to defend the Interior decision. “The district court recognized that the Interior Department, not the energy industry, holds the reins when it comes to deciding whether and how much to drill on public lands.”

In its ruling, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver decided it could not overturn the decision as requested by industry representatives, in part because some of the contested leases were still under review by the Interior Department’s own review board. The decision drew the ire of the Western Energy Alliance, a group of Western oil and gas producers.

“The circuit specifically did not rule on the merits of the case, but sent it back to BLM to exhaust administrative procedures,” Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of governmental and public affairs for the alliance, said in a prepared statement.

The Interior Department has issued some contested leases after further review, and only eight remain contested in Wyoming.

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

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