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Appeals court says Interior can change mind on oil and gas leases

Published March 12, 2013 5:25 pm

Energy • At issue was time frame for leases to be released.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A federal appellate court has upheld the Interior Department's decision to not immediately release 118 federal oil and gas leases, including some in roadless parts of the San Rafael Swell, sold at auction in Wyoming and Utah.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had concluded that the Bureau of Land Management had not done an adequate review of the leases' impacts on sage grouse, wilderness and other sensitive values.

Industry challenged the decision and lost in Wyoming's U.S. District Court, where Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled in 2011 that BLM has the flexibility to decide whether to issue the lease within 60 days after the auction.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals let that ruling stand.

At stake was an important precedent that ensures BLM thinks before it leases, said Melanie Kay, a lawyer with Earthjustice who argued the case on behalf of a consortium of intervening environmental groups.

"Industry doesn't get to call the shots here, the secretary does. These are all of our public lands," Kay said.

The Western Energy Alliance and several energy developers had argued that the Mineral Leasing Act requires Interior to issue leases within 60 days of their purchase.

The 118 leases covering 150,000 acres had been sold at numerous auctions between 2005 and 2010 under protest from environmental groups. Since then 71 have been issued after further environmental review, many with new requirements to protect the environment.

Industry walked away from many others and only eight, all in Wyoming, remain in contention.

bmaffly@sltrib.com