Feds seek to settle Bush-era lawsuits over shale policies

The federal government is seeking to settle litigation involving oil shale policies established during the Bush administration, and is describing negotiations as “productive.”

Government attorneys pointed to the settlement talks last week in court filings asking for yet another extension of the government’s deadline to answer the litigation.

Colorado U.S. District Court Judge John Kane agreed to the government’s request to extend that deadline to Nov. 16.

Conservation groups filed two lawsuits on Jan. 16, during George W. Bush’s last days in office.

The suits challenge regulations the Bureau of Land Management issued in 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.

This is the fifth extension the government has been given to respond to the suits. It previously has asked for more time for the new Obama administration to determine the appropriate course of action, consider suit amendments by the plaintiffs, allow for Senate confirmation of Wilma Lewis as Interior Department assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management and Bob Abbey as director of the BLM, and brief them on the case.

“Since Ms. Lewis and Mr. Abbey have been confirmed, the parties have been in discussions regarding potential settlement in the case,” government attorneys wrote in seeking a 45-day extension to respond to each suit.

“The discussions have been productive and may lead ultimately to a settlement of Plaintiffs’ claims. Given the various interests represented in the case, however, reaching a settlement will take time.”

Shell, which holds three federal research, development and demonstration oil shale leases in northwest Colorado, has been granted intervenor status in both lawsuits, and the American Petroleum Institute was granted its request to intervene in one of them. API attorney Erik Milito said he couldn’t comment on the settlement talks.

Following his confirmation as interior secretary under President Obama, Ken Salazar was named as the lead defendant in the cases. Since taking office, the former U.S. senator from Colorado has withdrawn a Bush-era proposal to issue a second round of oil shale research and development leases.

Salazar said a new round of leasing will occur after the government takes public comment on possible lease terms and conditions.

Salazar said the previously proposed leases would lock in low royalty rates that shortchange taxpayers.


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