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Federal Judge Allows Three Energy Trade Associations to Intervene in Leasing Lawsuit

A federal judge said three energy trade associations will be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed last summer by two environmental groups over the Department of Interior's (DOI) decision to approve nearly 400 oil and gas leases in three western states.

Last August, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed suit against DOI Secretary Sally Jewell, the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and its director, Neil Kornze, over their decision to approve 397 oil and gas leases in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. The leases, totaling 379,950 acres of public land, were sold through 10 lease sales beginning in 2015.

The environmental groups allege the defendants violated the federal National Environmental Policy Act by not properly analyzing the cumulative impacts of the sales on climate.

According to court records, the three energy trade associations -- the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) -- filed two separate motions to intervene in the case earlier this month. WEA and PAW filed a joint motion on Nov. 4, and API did likewise on Nov. 16.

“[WEA] members have invested millions of dollars to acquire the challenged oil and gas leases, including significant funds expended prior to the bonus and rental fees spent on the lease sales,” Kathleen Sgamma, WEA’s vice president for government and public affairs, wrote in the group’s motion. “These costs include resources spent evaluating prospective leases, conducting geological research, nominating parcels, assessing the financial potential, and other background work to determine whether to pursue the leases in question.

“Member companies’ valid existing rights and operations in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are put in substantial risk by the lease challenge.”

Although the plaintiffs were not opposed to the trade associations intervening, they argued that their participation should be limited. But in a ruling last Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras disagreed.

"While this court shares plaintiffs' interest in avoiding redundant briefing, it is not persuaded that joint consolidated motions are appropriate in this case," Contreras wrote. "The court believes that the intervenors will be able to confer and guard against redundancy in their filings without requiring the onerous limitation of joint briefing.

"Additionally, although the court also seeks to conserve judicial resources, given that 'the aim of [allowing intervention is] disposing of disputes with as many concerned parties as may be compatible with efficiency and due process,' the court is not convinced that limiting intervenors to the existing claims would serve the efficient conduct of the proceedings."

Earlier this month, the BLM office in Utah posted a proposed list of four parcels totaling 4,175 acres that will be offered in an online oil and gas lease sale in the first quarter. The BLM office in Colorado also released an environmental assessment on its previously announced plans to lease up to 100,000 acres across five counties in the northwestern corner of the state in May 2017.

The case is WildEarth Guardians et al v. Jewell et al (Case No. 1:16-cv-01724-RC).

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