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Court rejects energy industry challenge to oil lease withdrawals on western public land

Contested oil and gas plays at issue in federal appeals court

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest.

A federal court this week ruled on the disposition of several disputed oil leases in the spectacular canyon country of the Southwest. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal court this week confirmed that the  energy industry missed its legal window to contest a U.S. Department of Interior decision to withdraw 77 oil and gas leases in Utah. Some of the tracts were in the vicinity of Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument — too close for comfort, according to conservation groups, who convinced the incoming Obama administration to withdraw the leases.

The leases had originally been auctioned off ain the waning days of the Bush administration, in a move widely characterized as a parting gift from Bush-era officials to the energy industry. Interior Secretary Ken scrapped the leases because BLM skimped on its environmental analysis and failed to adequately consult with the National Park Service.

In September 2012, the 10th Circuit ruled that the energy industry missed its 90-day window to challenge Sec. Salazar’s decision under the Mineral Leasing Act. Today the Court rejected industry’s request to have the full Court revisit that decision. 

“This is a victory for Utah’s wild lands,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice attorney for the conservation groups who intervened in the case to defend the Secretary’s decision. “As Secretary Salazar recognized, the prior administration was in a ‘headlong rush’ to issue oil and gas leases without concern for the spectacular scenery, pristine air, and outstanding recreational opportunities of these lands.”

“Utah’s spectacular public lands are the real winner in this ruling,” said David Garbett, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “However, there is still work to do. The plans and documents that led to the disastrous offering of these lease parcels are still in place; this mistake could be repeated.”

“The court’s decision validates the significance of public input and planning before lease permits are offered for sale,” said David Nimkin, southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “In particular, planning and providing for the protection of our national parks should be a priority.”

Several companies and Utah counties – including Impact Energy, Peak Production, Questar Exploration, and Uintah, Carbon and Duchesne counties in Utah – filed a lawsuit in the District of Utah in an attempt to overturn Salazar’s decision.

On September 1, 2010, the Utah court rejected the challenge of the energy companies and counties for missing their deadline to sue over the Secretary’s decision. The companies and counties appealed the District of Utah’s decision to the Tenth Circuit in January 2012.

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