BLM faces threat of lawsuit over oil shale
Seven conservation groups have warned the Bureau of Land Management they intend to sue over its recent land management decisions regarding oil shale and tar sands.
Meanwhile, the agency is planning to provide additional time for comments on proposed new rules governing royalties and other aspects of shale leasing.
The notice of intent to sue filed last week says the BLM failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act when it refused to formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its recent decision to make 810,000 acres in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah available for potential oil shale and tar sands leasing. The BLM’s failure came despite acknowledging likely impacts to the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, Mexican spotted owl and many other threatened and endangered species, the notice says.
It was filed by the Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club. A process spelled out under the Endangered Species Act gives the agency 60 days to rectify their concerns in order to avoid a suit.
BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he hadn’t seen the suit notice and didn’t think the agency would be able to provide much comment. The agency previously has indicated that it can’t undertake consultation with Fish and Wildlife until it considers site-specific plans because to do so earlier would be based largely on speculation.
The notice was filed as the agency has turned its attention to oil shale leasing rules. A public comment period on its new rules proposal ended Tuesday. But Hall said the agency will provide an additional 30-day period to submit comments as soon as a notice is published in the Federal Register. Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado recently had asked for 60 more days to comment.
A letter submitted to the BLM by a coalition of environmental groups Tuesday, including some involved with the lawsuit threat, supported an option floated by the BLM that would raise royalty rates to a minimum of 12.5 percent. The rate currently starts out at 5 percent and escalates to 12.5 percent by the 13th year of commercial production. AGNC has said changes involving royalties and other rules could affect shale projects, and thus local employment and tax revenue.
The conservation groups on Tuesday said shale leasing rules also should be further strengthened to address environmental and health concerns.
The BLM decided to reconsider shale land allocations and leasing regulations in response to previous litigation by conservation groups.