Roan drilling on hold until June; no ruling issued on enviros’ suit

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management doesn’t expect natural gas development on the recently leased Roan Plateau to begin until June.

Attorneys for conservation groups say that should provide enough time for a judge to consider the merits of a lawsuit challenging the leasing.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger was scheduled to act Wednesday on the attorneys’ request for a preliminary injunction halting further action regarding drilling on the Roan while the lawsuit is resolved. But attorney James Angell of Earthjustice said Krieger ended up issuing no ruling because lawyers for all sides are close to an agreement under which no ground-disturbing, drilling-related activities would occur on the Roan before June 1.

“By agreeing to maintain the status quo, that’s basically what we are asking for anyway,” Angell said.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said he’s not aware of any agreement, but instead characterized the situation as a recognition of the earliest date drilling-related activities could occur, particularly on the plateau top.

“We can’t do anything out there until June ’09. That’s just the reality on the ground,” he said.

Weather and snow conditions make it impracticable to do anything on the plateau top sooner, Hall said.

Energy companies also have yet to meet regulatory requirements, such as obtaining applications for permits to drill.

In a court filing, the BLM also notes big-game winter-range protections prevent surface-disturbing activities from occurring from Dec. 1 through April 30 at the base of the Roan Plateau. Although exceptions to these restrictions can be sought, none have been requested, the agency said.

In their own filing, attorneys for environmental groups had worried that drilling might be able to begin by May 1, which might not allow enough time for Krieger to consider arguments and rule on the case’s merits. But Angell said stretching things out a month should provide adequate time for a final ruling.

Conservation groups say the BLM broke environmental laws in its plan to allow oil and gas leasing on tens of thousands of acres on the Roan Plateau. The agency denies the claim, as does Vantage Energy of Denver, which won the leases for the plateau top and has been granted party status in the case.

Williams Production RMT and OXY USA, who also successfully bid on leases during the August auction, recently filed a motion asking that they be allowed to become parties in the lawsuit.


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