Former Interior official drops ties to Roan case

A woman who had authority over planning for oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau while she was a high-level federal official has withdrawn from involvement in a lawsuit over leasing of the plateau.

Rebecca Watson had represented Bill Barrett Corp., which holds the oil and gas leases on the plateau top. She withdrew from the case after resigning her partnership with Hogan Lovells US LLP in Denver and joining another firm as a shareholder. Barrett wanted Hogan Lovells to continue to represent it in the Roan case, according to court files.

Environmental advocates had raised concerns when Watson became involved in the case. A Department of the Interior assistant secretary in the Bush administration until 2005, she oversaw the Bureau of Land Management and “had authority over a number of controversial decisions made” in preparing a draft study for the Roan, according to a previous court filing by attorneys for several environmental groups. Those groups sued over the BLM’s decision in 2008 to lease some 55,000 acres on the plateau top and base for oil and gas development. The suit has been in court-ordered settlement talks that so far have been unsuccessful.

After the suit was filed, Watson was hired as an outside counsel for Vantage Energy, which won the leases on the plateau top. Barrett since has purchased a 90 percent interest in those leases.

At the time she was retained by Vantage, Michael Freeman, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, said it was another example of someone who regulated the industry getting hired by the industry. He compared it to revelations of a “cozy relationship” between the federal Minerals Management Service and the industry.

Environmental groups also contended Watson’s involvement in the case showed a “particularly close alignment” between Vantage’s and the BLM’s interests in the case, so there was no need for Vantage to be allowed to intervene in their suit against the government. A federal judge nevertheless let Vantage intervene.

At the time, a Vantage representative said his company didn’t specifically seek representation by Watson, but instead employed two law firms, including hers, known at the time as Hogan & Hartson. That firm then put together a team for the case that included Watson.

Watson declined to comment at the time, and her law firm’s managing partner, Cole Finegan, said then that all time periods had passed during which Watson might not have been allowed to work on such a case after her government employment.

Finegan is taking Watson’s place in the Roan case. Watson has joined Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley as a shareholder.


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