A federal appeals court in Washington, DC, in affirming a lower court’s ruling, put its seal of approval on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2008 and 2000 records of decision (ROD) allowing more drilling in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) of western Wyoming.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), whose members pursue recreational hunting in PAPA, filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2010 rejected the conservation group’s request to halt new natural gas drilling in the Pinedale Anticline (see Daily GPI, June 23, 2008).

The Interior Department’s BLM “did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in determining that the plan in the 2008 [ROD] will prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the PAPA. In adopting the 2008 record of decision, the bureau recognized the primary competing uses of the PAPA: the recovery of natural gas from the third-largest natural gas field in the continental United States and recreational use of PAPA’s other natural resources.

“Pursuant to its multiple-use mandate, the bureau decided to allow additional natural gas extraction in the PAPA while implementing significant measures to mitigate the degradation the bureau conceded would be necessary to allow significant recovery,” opined the three-judge panel.

“TRCP points to various statements in the record to support its assertion that the mitigation measures the bureau has implemented in the 2008 [ROD] will fail, leaving in place development without accompanying mitigation.”

But “where TRCP offers evidence that a particular measure likely will be ineffective, it fails to provide any other solution that still would permit significant recovery of natural gas — a use FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act] requires the bureau to balance with conservation,” the court said.

The 2000 ROD authorized significant expansion of natural gas development in the Pinedale Anticline, and included monitoring and mitigation measures intended to preserve PAPA’s other natural resources, such as the sage-grouse leks. The 2008 ROD, which was issued in June of that year, superseded the 2000 ROD, authorizing the development of up to 4,399 wells on no more than 600 well pads (down from the 700 producing well pads authorized by the 2000 ROD), the ruling said.

The TRCP claimed that the BLM violated the FLPMA and National Environmental Policy Act by allegedly failing to enforce the 2000 ROD. The district court found the claims to be moot, and the appellate court agreed. “That [2000] record of decision no longer exists; the Bureau’s 2008 record of decision superseded the 2000 record of decision ‘in its entirety,'” the court said.

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