Judge to parties: Settle or litigate shale lawsuits

Nine is enough.

That’s the message from a judge after the federal government requested a ninth delay in responding to two suits filed in January 2009 over Department of Interior actions on oil shale.

Colorado U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane granted the request, setting a new deadline of July 16.

But he warned that he’s not inclined to agree to any more delays, even if other parties in the cases continue not to oppose the government’s repeated requests.

“As all parties are undoubtedly aware, the Complaint in this action was filed nearly seventeen months ago,” Kane wrote in identical orders on the government’s request for each suit. “Though I am sympathetic to the existence of factors beyond Defendants’ control which have contributed to the delay of this proceeding, I find it counterproductive to the timely resolution of this controversy to repeatedly and indiscriminately provide the Defendant and Interveners with extensions of time to file an Answer.”

The factor cited by the government in seeking to justify its latest request is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which “has diverted the attention of senior decision makers within the Department of Interior,” federal attorneys wrote in motions.

As in previous requests, the attorneys wrote that they were hopeful that continued discussions would lead to settlement of the cases.

But Kane said in his orders, “Settlement negotiations have been ongoing for nearly eight months, and no natural or manmade disaster will justify a continued inability to reach an amicable solution. I strongly urge the parties to either resolve this controversy or prepare to litigate.”

Conservation groups filed the suits in the waning days of the Bush administration. The suits were inherited by the Obama administration and new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who as a U.S. senator from Colorado had criticized some of the oil shale policies of the Bush administration. The Obama administration sought earlier delays in responding to allow the confirmation of key Interior Department appointees and to enable them to familiarize themselves with the issues in the suits.

The suits say the Bureau of Land Management failed to adequately assess environmental impacts in drafting regulations for a commercial oil shale program and amending land management plans in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The amended plans potentially allow oil shale and tar sands development on more than 2 million acres.

Shell, which holds three federal oil shale research and development leases, has intervened in both suits, and the American Petroleum Institute is an intervener in one of them.


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