Judge grants feds delay in oil shale lawsuits
Aspen, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – A federal judge has grudgingly granted the federal government a ninth delay in responding to lawsuits challenging a plan to open nearly 2 million acres of public land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado to oil shale development.
U.S. District Court Judge John Kane granted the request last week, extending the deadline to July 16. But Kane said he’s not inclined to approve any more delays, noting that the two lawsuits were filed nearly 17 months ago.
Federal officials made the latest request because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Kane said while he is sympathetic to the “existence of factors beyond Defendants’ control which have contributed to the delay of this proceeding,” settlement negotiations have been under way for nearly eight months.
“I strongly urge the parties to either resolve this controversy or prepare to litigate,” Kane said.
The lawsuits by conservation groups claim the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management violated environmental laws by curtailing public comment and failing to consider impacts on wildlife or the potential effects on climate change.
The 13 groups suing also argue that regulations setting the royalty rates for oil shale violate federal law requiring fair market value for public resources.
When he was a U.S. senator from Colorado, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the initial 5 percent royalty rate a “pittance.” He criticized the Bush administration for approving the oil shale plan and regulations, which he called flawed and premature.
Shell Oil, which has three federal oil shale research and development leases, has intervened on the government’s behalf in both lawsuits. The American Petroleum Institute is an intervener in one of them.
Government and industry officials estimate that 1 trillion to 1.8 trillion barrels of oil – up to three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia – are locked in rock in parts of western Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Roughly 800 billion barrels are considered recoverable.
The oil is really kerogen, a precursor to oil that wasn’t buried deeply enough or processed naturally long enough to complete the transformation to oil.
Attempts to extract the oil stretch back a century, and industry officials concede any significant commercial oil shale development is likely at least a decade off.
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