Conservation groups denied oral arguments in Roan lawsuit

A drill rig on the Roan Plateau.

A judge has denied a request from conservation groups to hear oral arguments in their lawsuit challenging natural gas development on the Roan Plateau.

James Angell, one of the groups’ attorneys, said he expects U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger to rule on the case this month if a settlement isn’t reached first.

Parties in the case all have agreed there will be no ground disturbance related to federal oil and gas leases on the Roan before July 1.

Conservation groups continue to hope to reach a settlement in the case. In a court motion Friday, they said that they, the government and some of the four energy companies that successfully bid for leases on the Roan last year “are diligently pursuing settlement but have not yet reached full agreement.”

In August, under the Bush administration, the Bureau of Land Management leased oil and gas rights to more than 55,000 acres on and around the plateau, northwest of Rifle. After President Obama took office, his administration began to seek a settlement to the lawsuit challenging those leases.

“Oral argument is merited in this case because of the significant public interest in the Roan Plateau, the impact the lawsuit will have on the future of this iconic natural area, and the important legal principles at issue,” the conservation groups said in their motion Friday.

Krieger said in an order Monday that her consideration of parties’ briefs “currently reveals no issues upon which the court requires an oral argument.”

Angell said that although Krieger “doesn’t need us to help her out” in evaluating the case, he would have liked to have had the chance to make oral arguments in order to hear what’s on her mind and provide clarification if needed.

Angell said if no settlement is reached and Krieger rules on the case, the ruling almost certainly would be appealed, given the number of parties involved.

Although the moratorium on drilling-related activities expires in a month, conservation groups said in Friday’s motion that none of the companies appears to be in a position to begin operations, anyway, because they haven’t yet applied for required approvals.

“Nor do the Federal Defendants appear to have prepared the National Environmental Policy Act analysis that must precede any such approvals,” the groups wrote in their motion.
Such approvals would be needed for site-specific work.


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