WEA, ND council sue BLM, USFS over sage grouse land use plan changes

The Western Energy Alliance and North Dakota Petroleum Council jointly sued the US Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, charging that the agencies developed amended land use plans for the greater sage grouse that impose restrictions on new oil and gas leases and on development of existing leases.

The two federal agencies unilaterally and substantively amended many BLM regulations implementing the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act that govern oil and gas leasing on onshore federal lands without following procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act, the associations said in their May 12 lawsuit in US District Court for North Dakota.

The litigation, filed in the US District Court for the District of North Dakota, covers four records of decision signed by Interior Sec. Sally Jewell and Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack last September involving land use plans in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Utah.

The suit challenges federal plans with oil and gas restrictions that fail to conform to state plans, meaning plans in all western producing states in the Lower 48 except for Wyoming, WEA Vice-Pres. for Government and Public Affairs Kathleen Sgamma said in Denver.

“Before the federal sage grouse plans were finalized, oil and gas companies had implemented more than 770 specific protections for sage grouse, while reducing impact on the land by 70% with horizontal drilling and advanced hydraulic fracturing,” she said May 12.

“Local and state efforts tailored to actual conditions on the ground are effectively protecting the sage grouse and its habitat,” Sgamma said. “Despite that success, the federal government has imposed top-down, centralized plans that are less effective than state and private efforts and will needlessly kill jobs and economic growth in the West.”

Jewell announced in September that the greater sage grouse would not be listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act following unprecedented cooperation involving state fish and game departments, oil and gas producers, county and local government, ranchers, sportsmen, environmentalists, and other stakeholders (OGJ Online, Sept. 22, 2015).

Jewell concurrently announced records of decision for land use plans which included restrictions for oil and gas producers and other public land users. Utah’s state government sued in February over the new federal land use management plan there which it said overturned the state’s own 2013 conservation plan for the bird (OGJ Online, Feb. 5, 2016).

The State of Idaho, Nevada counties, American Exploration & Mining Association, Wyoming Coalition of Local Governments, Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and Western Watersheds Project also have sued, WEA said.

“By ignoring sound science, the agencies are exaggerating the impact of oil and natural gas development on sage grouse, and failing to recognize that oil and natural gas development coexists with sage grouse conservation,” Sgamma said. “The draconian measures go well beyond reasonable mitigation of impact. We are disappointed BLM and the Forest Service persist with top-down, centralized management of sage grouse on public lands that discourages more effective western efforts.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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