Feds: New Roan planning makes appeal unnecessary

The federal government says its new planning process for oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau west of Rifle invalidates an appeal of a judge’s ruling last summer.

Attorneys representing the Interior Department take that position in a brief in an appeal filed by Denver-based Bill Barrett Corp.

Barrett is asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger setting aside the Bureau of Land Management’s plan leading to the 2008 leasing of 55,000 acres on the Roan Plateau for oil and gas development.

Krieger, in ruling on a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, remanded the matter back to the BLM for further action.

Barrett owns a 90 percent interest in some 40,000 of the leased acres, including all those on the plateau top, an area conservationists hope to protect from drilling.

In its appeal, Barrett says Krieger got facts wrong and improperly second-guessed the BLM in her decision.

Conservation groups hadn’t planned to appeal, but after Barrett’s action have appealed some aspects of Krieger’s ruling as well.

In the Interior Department filing, however, attorneys said the appeals court lacks jurisdiction because under its own case law, remanding a matter back to the BLM for further action doesn’t qualify as a final decision that can be immediately appealed by private parties.

In the Roan case, “BLM has acquiesced in the district court’s judgment” and begun the process of preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement to address the issues identified by Krieger, the government filing said.

Once it amends its Roan plan, any aggrieved party could sue at that time, it said.

Even if the appeals court has jurisdiction, it should find the appeal moot because, depending on what plan the BLM adopts, “one or more of the parties might not be aggrieved by the result,” the government said.

“Any meaningful relief that the parties hope to obtain therefore ought to be deferred until BLM can complete its decision-making process,” it said.

It said there is no urgency to hear an appeal because Krieger didn’t invalidate the leases and the BLM suspended them indefinitely while it addresses Krieger’s concerns.

Barrett has contended that if its appeal isn’t immediately heard and the BLM decides to require leases atop the plateau to be developed by directional drilling from the surrounding base, “then BLM would effectively be voiding BBC’s leases because BBC would not be able to access and develop its leases.”

It says that would result “in a loss of real property interests and irreparable economic harm to the company.”

But conservation attorneys say the Community Alternative for the Roan — which Krieger ruled the BLM failed to justify having not considered — wouldn’t have restricted drilling only to the base.

“The Community Alternative also permits surface locations at the perimeter of the federal leasehold atop the Plateau, and on adjacent private lands,” their appeal filing contends.

They also contend directional drilling would allow much of the plateau top’s resources to be developed.


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