Sides in Roan lease fight differ on effect of air quality ruling

An energy company and conservation groups are at odds over whether a federal official’s report on Utah oil and gas leases has any bearing on a lawsuit challenging drilling on the Roan Plateau.

Groups opposing the issuing of federal oil and gas leases for nearly 55,000 acres on and around the plateau said the air quality concerns raised by Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes regarding the Utah leases bolster the arguments they made in their Roan lawsuit.

However, Bill Barrett Corp., which recently acquired a 90 percent lease interest in 40,300 of the Roan acres, says Hayes’ report is irrelevant to the Roan case, and merely an agency memo lacking in the legal authority required to be considered in the case.

Hayes’ report concluded that Park Service and Environmental Protection Agency concerns about lack of air quality analysis for the Utah leases “appear to be well-founded,” and recommended a new study of the air quality impacts of the proposed oil and gas development in the affected region. The Colorado Environmental Coalition and other groups challenging the Roan leases wrote in a court filing Wednesday that their lawsuit points to some of the same flaws acknowledged in Hayes’ report, and they’re seeking a similar remedy.

Hayes’ report pertains to 77 parcels the BLM leased in December in Utah. Some parcels are near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew the leases in February, saying they required further review.

Hayes’ report concluded that it may be appropriate to lease 30 parcels but that leasing of the rest should not proceed because they require further analysis.

The federal government is in settlement talks with conservation groups and four energy companies over the Roan lawsuit. The companies have agreed to hold off on drilling-related activities until Sept. 1, barring a court ruling in their favor before then.

The conservation groups also have pointed to a New Mexico drilling dispute in seeking to strengthen their Roan Plateau case. A federal appeals court ruled this year the BLM had to consider leaving Otero Mesa undeveloped under the agency’s multiple-use mandate.

Conservation groups contend the BLM failed to consider that option for the Roan Plateau.


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