Energy industry appeals BLM lease ruling despite 'partial victory'

2011-09-03T20:00:00Z Energy industry appeals BLM lease ruling despite 'partial victory'

By JEREMY FUGLEBERG

Star-Tribune energy reporter

Casper Star-Tribune Online

An energy industry group is appealing a judge’s ruling that ordered the Interior Department to abide by a 60-day oil and gas leasing deadline.

Western Energy Alliance last week appealed U.S District Judge Nancy Freudenthal’s June decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alliance spokeswoman Kathleen Sgamma said Freudenthal’s decision was a “partial victory.” But she said it didn’t do enough to force the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the department, to properly follow the Mineral Leasing Act when leasing parcels for oil and gas development.

“Our victory quickly degenerated into the status quo, as BLM simply asked companies to continue to wait indefinitely, and then denied leases when they wouldn’t agree,” Sgamma said.

Celia Boddington, a BLM spokeswoman, declined to comment on the litigation.

Under Freudenthal’s decision, the BLM could sell a lease at auction but then could decide within 60 days whether to issue the lease.

That means the agency could listen to concerns from citizens and environmental groups and reverse a decision to offer a lease after it was sold, a part of the ruling hailed by those groups.

But Western Energy Alliance wants the court to agree that the BLM makes a decision to issue a lease when it sells it at auction.

The group, which represents oil and gas companies active in the West, sued last year over a backlog of federal oil and gas leases in Wyoming and Utah.

Some of the leases were first sold in 2005 but had yet to be issued pending what the BLM said were objections from environmental groups.

Lisa McGee, lead attorney in the matter for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, which intervened in the case on the side of the BLM, said Western Energy Alliance’s position is an “extreme interpretation” of the Mineral Leasing Act.

“That would undercut the ability of citizens and conservation groups to raise concerns about those parcels,” she said.

Freudenthal’s ruling gave certainty to the industry by reinforcing the 60-day deadline, but it still allowed the BLM to consider concerns.

“If their interpretation is taken to its logical conclusion, it would divest the BLM with the authority to weigh both impacts to public lands and to maintain a leasing program,” she said.

A ruling in July from a federal judge in Utah also led Western Energy Alliance to appeal. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said the Interior Department was wrong to yank 77 leases it had sold at auction in 2008.

But the judge acknowledged the lease-buyers in the case had failed to file a complaint within the 90-day deadline after the leases were pulled.

“There’s a conflicting ruling from the Utah District Court, so we’re asking the 10th Circuit to resolve that discrepancy,” Sgamma said.

Reach Jeremy Fugleberg at 307-266-0623 or jeremy.fugleberg@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom/ and follow him on Twitter: @jerenegy.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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