Federal Judge overturns Administration Rules on Oil Drilling

By Jon E. Dougherty at 13 Aug 2011

(Newsroom America) -- A federal judge on Friday threw out rules imposed by the Obama administration to put the brakes on expedited environmental review of oil and gas drilling on land belonging to the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal ruled in favor of petroleum industry group Western Energy Alliance in federal court in Cheyenne, Wyo., in the group's lawsuit against the Obama administration and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The administration had dismissed Bush-era rules that allowed for expedited oil and gas drilling under categorical exclusions provisions on all federal lands, but Freudenthal's ruling reinstated them.

The administration argued that the group had failed to show how the new rules, implemented last year by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, caused delays and increased drilling costs.

"Western Energy has demonstrated through its members recognizable injury," Freudenthal said in rejecting the administration's argument. "Those injuries are supported by the administrative record."

The government declined to comment on the ruling, but Kathleen Sgamma, the Denver-based group's director of government and public affairs, said the court made the right decision.

"She completely discounted the government's argument that the harm was speculative," Sgamma said of Freudenthal's ruling, according to The Associated Press.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gave the Forest Service and BLM authority to skip normal environmental review processes for new drilling permits on federal land in certain circumstances.

One such instance is when drilling companies plan to disturb little ground and an environmental impact study has already been done for that area. Another instance that allowed for a categorical exclusion is when mew drilling was to occur on a pad where drilling had been done within the past five years.

It wasn't clear whether the government would appeal the ruling.

© 2011 Newsroom America.

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