By Catherine Tsai
The Bureau of Land Management didn't follow protocol when it approved a plan for allowing oil and natural gas development on the biologically rich Roan Plateau in western Colorado, a judge ruled Friday.
U.S District Judge Marcia Krieger set aside the plan and ordered the agency to take another look. In the meantime, federal leases that were issued for oil and gas drilling on the soaring plateau will remain in place.
Environmental groups had asked Krieger to cancel the leases, but Krieger said it's possible the BLM might stick with the same drilling plan, even after it reconsiders.
"The Roan is one of Colorado's gems. It's going to get a second look, and we hope it will be protected," said Earthjustice attorney Mike Freeman, who represented environmental groups that filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM's plan.
The BLM said it was reviewing the decision.
Environmental groups sued in 2008 after the BLM approved drilling in phases on the Roan, including the largely undeveloped top of the plateau. The agency has said the decision came after years of study, public input, and consideration of alternatives on where, how and how much drilling would occur.
However Freeman argued that the agency violated environmental laws, in part by failing to fully consider an alternative backed by Garfield County communities and others that would have left much of the surface of the plateau undisturbed. That alternative would have had companies recovering oil and gas beneath the surface through directional drilling from wells on the edge of the plateau.
The BLM argued in court that it doesn't have to consider alternatives that are infeasible. Krieger said the BLM never stated in its drilling decision that the community-backed option was infeasible. She also ruled that the BLM failed to sufficiently address cumulative effects of drilling on air quality over time from drilling on both public and private land in the area and failing to consider potential ozone impacts.