Groups revise lawsuit over shale development

A revised lawsuit against the federal government says it failed to adequately consider the potential climate-change implications of designating 2 million acres of public land for possible oil shale development in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

Thirteen conservation groups made the claim this week in an amendment to their previous lawsuit challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s allocation of lands for potential oil shale and tar sands development in the three states.

The groups say studies suggest 10 new coal-fired power plants would be needed to support a level of initial oil shale development that the BLM predicts could reach 1 million barrels a day in Colorado.

The amended lawsuit also includes new allegations that the BLM failed to properly consider air-quality impacts and failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The groups raise the wildlife concern in an amendment to a tandem lawsuit challenging new BLM commercial regulations for oil shale leasing.

The suits target BLM decisions made under the Bush administration. They originally were filed Jan. 16, during President Bush’s last days in office.

The Obama administration has yet to answer the litigation, partly because it needs more time “to determine the appropriate course of action,” it said in recent court motions. It also wanted to wait to see the conservation groups’ amended suits, and a judge has given it until July 15 to respond.

Said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for environmental groups, “I think we always hope that the other side will be happy to sit down and talk with us.”

Shell, which holds three federal oil shale research, development and demonstration leases in Colorado, is a party in the suits. Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd said Tuesday he couldn’t comment on the amended suits.

In its amended litigation, the conservation groups say the BLM provided general information on the climate impacts that oil shale and tar sands development are likely to have, but failed to attempt to quantify anticipated greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts.

The groups say the lands in question are home to more than a dozen species protected as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They also say the sage grouse is on the verge of requiring listing under the act and has numerous breeding grounds threatened by oil shale and tar sands development.


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