On Tuesday, January 15, 2013, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California will conduct a hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties in Center for Biological Diversity v. Bureau of Land Management. The case, filed December 8, 2011, by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sierra Club, challenges the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) leasing of federal lands in Monterey and Fresno counties for oil and gas development. A copy of the action may be found here.
As we previously reported here, the suit arises from BLM’s September 14, 2011, lease of four oil and gas parcels totaling approximately 2,700 acres to various lessees. In the suit, CBD and the Sierra Club allege that BLM’s decision to lease the land violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA). Specifically, the suit contends that “BLM relied upon an environmental assessment (EA) prepared pursuant to NEPA that failed to analyze many of the significant environmental effects of the oil and gas development that could occur upon development of the leases,” citing concerns for endangered and sensitive species in the area. The suit also warns of potential impacts to water quality and other resources that allegedly result from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a method of oil and gas well stimulation that may be employed in the leased areas. It also complains that oil and gas activity on the property may result in spills and habitat contamination and emissions of methane gas. Ultimately, CBD and the Sierra Club seek to overturn the leases.
The central legal defect alleged by CBD and the Sierra Club centers on BLM’s decision to prepare an EA and a Finding of No Significant Impact, or “FONSI,” rather than prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The environmental groups filed a protest to BLM’s decision to proceed with the oil and gas lease sale without an EIS. BLM dismissed their protest and proceeded with the sale, leading to the filing of the lawsuit.
The January 15 hearing involves cross-motions for summary judgment filed by both sides. The primary issue raised by the briefing involves the applicability of NEPA at the stage at which the oil and gas leases are originally sold, long before any specific oil and gas development is planned or implemented. Moreover, assuming NEPA analysis is required at that stage, the briefing evaluates whether BLM’s issuance of an environmental assessment was legally sufficient. These arguments are extensively evaluated and debated in the various briefs filed by the parties, as follows:
An amicus brief was filed by the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA):
We will report on the outcome of the January 15 hearing as soon as information becomes available.