A federal court in Colorado has upheld a U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of
Land Management decision approving a natural gas drilling project in the
Rocky Mountains. NRDC v. Vilsack, No. 08-2371 (D. Colo. 8/5/11). Plaintiffs
alleged that the agencies violated NE PA, the National Forest Management Act,
Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and Clean Air Act by failing to ensure
the project was consistent with the White River Land and Resource Management
Plan or that air emissions from the project would not violate air quality
standards. The complaint also claimed that the agencies failed to analyze the
project’s cumulative consequences.
Plaintiffs sought an injunction banning the project, which included “the drilling
of 45 natural gas wells, the creation of six well pads, the creation of six miles
of new access roads, and a total of approximately 50 acres of new surface
disturbance.” The project would also allow the project developer to construct
“approximately six miles of pipeline, and install up to 45 400-barrel storage
tanks, and up to 13 dehydrator heater units” over the next 30 years, if natural
gas is successfully produced.
Dismissing the complaint, the court ruled that the agencies “examined the
relevant data and articulated a satisfactory explanation for [their] decision,
including a rational connection between the facts found and the decision
made.” The court said its role was not to direct the agencies to engage in
“any particular scientific investigation,” such as ozone modeling, in their NE PA
analysis and “was not in a position to conclude, in the particular circumstances
of this case, that the Forest Service’s methodology was insufficient in terms of
determining” air quality compliance.