Oil shale lawsuits drag on almost a year

Continuing settlement talks that include appointees of President Obama have led to another postponement involving litigation over federal oil shale policies.

Colorado U.S. District Court Judge John Kane has granted the sixth extension requested by the government to respond to two lawsuits filed by conservation groups during President Bush’s final days in office.

The lawsuits challenge regulations the Bureau of Land Management issued last November for commercial oil shale development and its earlier identification of 1.9 million acres of public land for potential oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The government now has until Jan. 15, almost exactly a year since the lawsuits’ filings, to answer the litigation.

The lawsuits’ plaintiffs haven’t opposed the extensions. Nor has the American Petroleum Institute, which intervened in one of the cases, or Shell, which intervened in both and holds three federal research, development and demonstration oil shale leases in northwest Colorado.

The Obama administration has sought extra time for reasons ranging from consideration of suit amendments by the plaintiffs. The administration also waited for Senate confirmation of Wilma Lewis as Interior Department assistant secretary for land and minerals management and Bob Abbey as director of the BLM. Both since have been confirmed and have been involved in productive settlement talks, according to court filings in the case by the government.

Reaching a settlement will take time, given the various interests represented in the cases, the government said in seeking an extension for its most recent deadline of Nov. 16.

“Permitting the parties an additional 60 days in which to proceed with their negotiations will promote further productive settlement efforts,” government attorneys wrote.

With the change in administrations, the lead defendant in the cases is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Prior to his appointment by Obama, he was a Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado.

In his new job, Salazar withdrew a Bush-era proposal to issue a second round of oil shale research and development leases, in order to first take public comment on possible lease terms and conditions. Salazar announced his own versions of the new lease offerings in October.


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