BLM issues Roan drilling leases

Conservationists sought injunction to stop lease issues, but too late

Just hours after opponents had filed a court injunction Monday seeking to keep oil and gas leases from being issued for the Roan Plateau near Rifle, the federal government announced it already had issued the leases earlier in the day.

The Bureau of Land Management issued the leases after saying it had resolved thousands of administrative protests over the Aug. 14 sale, which generated $113.9 million in revenue. In yet another development in an eventful day for the Roan, the federal government eliminated the ability of protesters to be able to administratively appeal the rejection of those protests.

Mike Chiropolos, a Western Resource Advocates attorney who is involved in a lawsuit by conservation groups seeking to stop the BLM’s plan for oil and gas development on the Roan, said those groups still will get their day in court.

“It’s a far cry from being over,” he said.

However, the preliminary injunction conservation groups asked for Monday specifically sought to stop leases from being issued because they said the leases would result in “irreparable harm,” whatever the eventual outcome of the lawsuit. They cited a past reluctance by courts to void mineral leases “even after Plaintiffs have prevailed on the merits of their claims.”

Despite that position, Chiropolos said Monday a court still would have authority to undo the leases if it finds in favor of conservation groups on the merits of the case. The groups say the BLM broke environmental laws in its Roan plan. The agency denied those allegations in its response to protests.

Steven Hall, a BLM spokesman in Colorado, said the government issued the leases Monday before learning of the motion for the preliminary injunction.

In a statement, Stephen Allred, assistant secretary for lands and minerals management for the Department of Interior, noted that issuing the leases does not authorize drilling.

“Additional environmental analysis and public planning will occur prior to any drilling on the Roan Plateau,” he said.

However, the government removed yet one more possible impediment to drilling by eliminating the option of appealing protest denials to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Chiropolos pointed to that as one more sign that the Bush administration is “bound and determined to open the Roan Plateau to drilling” in the administration’s waning days.

Hall said waiving that appeals process is not normal but “certainly not unheard of.” He said it reflects clear congressional direction in 1997 legislation to open up the Roan to drilling. That’s hardly rushing things, Hall said.

“This is a process that’s been in the works for a long time,” he said.

The state of Colorado will receive 49 percent of the leasing revenues, or about $56 million.


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