Federal judge throws out Obama drilling rules

Seattle pi.com

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A judge on Friday threw out Obama
administration rules that sought to slow down expedited environmental review of
oil and gas drilling on federal land.

U.S. District Judge Nancy
Freudenthal
ruled in favor of a petroleum industry group, the Western
Energy Alliance
, in its lawsuit against the federal government, including
Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar
.

The
ruling reinstates Bush-era expedited oil and gas drilling under provisions
called categorical exclusions on federal lands nationwide, Freudenthal said.

The government argued that oil and gas companies had no
case because they didn’t show how the new rules, implemented by the U.S.
Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service
last year, had created
delays and added to the cost of drilling.

Freudenthal rejected that argument.

“Western
Energy has demonstrated through its members recognizable injury,” she said.
“Those injuries are supported by the administrative record.”

An attorney for the government declined to comment but
Kathleen
Sgamma
, director of government and public affairs for the Denver-based
Western Energy Alliance, praised the ruling.

“She
completely discounted the government’s argument that the harm was speculative,”
Sgamma said of the judge.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows the BLM
and Forest Service
to invoke categorical exclusions and skip new
environmental review for drilling permits under certain circumstances.

The
circumstances include instances where companies plan to disturb relatively
little ground and environmental review already has been done for that area. A
categorical exclusion also can be invoked when additional drilling is planned at
a well pad where drilling has occurred within the previous five years.

Categorical exclusions were widely used throughout the
West — especially in the gas boom states of Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — until
last year.

In
Wyoming, the BLM invoked categorical exclusions for 87 percent of the new gas
wells drilled in the Upper Green River Basin between 2007 and 2010. Those
drilling permits added up: Close to 3,000 over those three years in the basin’s
Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline gas fields.

The
Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline ranked fifth and sixth for gas production in
the U.S. in 2009.

Federal
land agencies adopted new rules for interpreting the Energy Policy Act last year
in response to an environmentalist lawsuit over the use of categorical
exclusions. The Western Energy Alliance sued over the new rules
last fall.

Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/article/Federal-judge-throws-out-Obama-drilling-rules-1927203.php#ixzz1Uwq296lg

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