County responds to court decision on drilling leases
Carbon County reacted officially late Wednesday afternoon after a court ruling by Judge Dee Benson was released concerning a lawsuit that was filed concerning the pulling of 77 leases for oil and gas exploration in early 2009.
"Carbon County is pleased with the court's August 31st decision holding that the Secretary of Interior (Ken Salazar) violated the law when it canceled the BLM's 77 natural gas leases that were leased out to successful bidders in 2008. The court's ruling should stand up as a warning against any possible future lease cancellations by the federal government, and it will restore integrity and reliability to the BLM oil and gas leasing process. The county is disappointed in the court's conclusion that the lawsuit was filed too late under strict federal deadlines for the Court to consider our particular case."
The release of the ruling was controversial on both sides of the case. Obviously the plaintiffs (Carbon, Uintah and Duchesne counties, along with some energy companies that joined with them in the suit) were disappointed in the fact that Benson ruled concerning the fact the case was filed after the time restraint deadline.
Officially the Interior Department had no reaction at the time of this writing. However, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (which had intervenor status in the case) had a reaction almost immediately after the ruling was released. Attorney Stephen Bloch told KUER news that SUWA was pleased that Benson found that the case had been filed too late. But he also said he thought the judge had some of the rest of it wrong.
"The Secretary of the Interior does have the right to pull these leases as far as we are concerned," he told the station.
Benson's ruling stated that the case presented "only questions of law" and by that was able to take the filing deadline as one of the reasons for dismissing the suit. But he also said that the "Secretary exceeded his statutory authority by withdrawing leases after determining which parcels were to be leased and after holding a competitive lease sale during which the BLM named the plaintiffs high responsible bidders."
While the suit only dealt with 11 of the 77 leases, its impact on the rest of the leases that were pulled and the future of bidding on more leases were directly tied to the action. Those in favor of the leases say that the action by Salazar promoted a chilling effect to the entire idea of drilling for gas or oil on federal lands. That seemed apparent to some because not long after the decision, rigs in the three county area began to disappear from the region moving to other places in the country where the drilling was on private or state lands.
However, critics of that claim say that they only left because that was about the time the economy of the United States started to decline, a downturn that is affecting almost everyone in the country to this day.
For their part the counties haven't decided yet what action to take. In the Carbon County release officials stated that the "county relied on its trial counsel regarding what to say in the initial court complaint and when to file the complaint. At this time the county is reviewing its options on whether to appeal this portion of the court's ruling."