Oil shale back in court

Fresh off a victory that saw the Obama administration sharply reduce the amount of land available in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming for oil shale development, environmental organizations have hauled the administration back into court.

The organizations sued the Bureau of Land Management last week, complaining that the agency, overseen by Colorado native and prominent advocate of a go-slow approach to oil shale Ken Salazar, the secretary of the Interior during the BLM study, failed to suitably address the Endangered Species Act in its just-completed programmatic environmental impact study of oil shale development.

It’s worth noting that the study, which was begun and largely completed under Salazar’s tenure, was itself the result of a lawsuit filed by environmental organizations that were displeased with the expansive approach of the George W. Bush administration to oil shale.

Under the Bush administration, about 2 million acres of the Green River Formation, 360,000 of them in Colorado, were eligible for development. Once the Obama administration was in place, the BLM settled the suit and agreed to the new environmental study, which cut the amount of land available for oil shale development in Colorado to 26,300 acres.

It seems as though the judicial system is being asked to play an outsized role in the development of oil shale policy.

The BLM has maintained that consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be speculative for the purposes of its environmental studies.

We’re inclined to doubt that a Salazar-led study would have failed to take into account all appropriate considerations for oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

We don’t have the last word, though. The courts do. In the meantime, any research into responsible oil shale development beyond that already under way is additionally hamstrung.

We hope a federal judge can find a way to put the role of the Endangered Species Act and the BLM into proper perspective.


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