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On Court Order, BLM Reexamines Impact of Montana CBM Production

Responding to a court order following an environmental protest of its decision on coalbed methane (CBM) development in the Powder River Basin and the Billings area in Montana, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in a Federal Register notice Aug. 5 issued a notice of intent to prepare a supplement to the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on oil and gas development in the area and to amend its resource management plans (RMP).

The agency published its original notice of intent on an FEIS on the area on Dec. 19, 2000 and approved a record of decision on April 30, 2003. Several lawsuits immediately followed, and two of them resulted in an April 5 ruling by the U.S. District Court ordering BLM to prepare a supplemental EIS to consider a phased development alternative for CBM production.

Development and production was halted by an injunction issued in June by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was sought by the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe, the Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) and other groups. The ruling enjoined Fidelity Exploration and Production Co. from drilling any additional wells in its Coal Creek Project, or from constructing any infrastructure to serve the wells.

The areas in question include about 1.5 million BLM-managed surface acres and 3.2 million acres of BLM managed oil and gas property. The BLM said it will evaluate the effects of phased CBM development and production in the area, the inclusion of the proposed Tongue River Railroad in the cumulative impact analysis, and a discussion on how private water well mitigation agreements will help alleviate the impacts of methane migration and groundwater drawdown. It plans to release a record of decision in December 2006.

Written comments on the scope of the supplemental EIS and amendment can be submitted for 30 days following the Federal Register notice. The purpose of the public scoping period is to help BLM define "phased development" and identify relevant issues that should be considered.

Public scoping meetings will be held in Miles City, Broadus, Lame Deer and Billings, MT. Meeting locations and dates for each town will be announced through the local news media. For more information on filing comments, contact Mary Bloom at (406) 233-2852, or by e-mail at mtseis@blm.gov or by fax at (406) 233-2921.

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