Description: Lawsuit challenging federal defendants’ approval of the North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan, which allowed drilling of 35 horizontal gas wells in an area on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains.
Citizens for a Healthy Community v. U.S. Department of Interior
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 05/19/2022 Opinion and Order Download Agencies' approval of plan vacated and matter remanded back to the agencies for further consideration. Federal Court Vacated Approvals that Allowed Oil and Gas Development on Colorado’s Western Slope; Agencies to Conduct Additional Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The federal district court for the District of Colorado vacated federal approvals of a master development plan for oil and gas development activities in the North Fork Valley of Colorado’s Western Slope. The federal agencies had filed a motion to remand without vacatur, reporting that additional review of the approval decisions had identified “substantial concerns” with the underlying NEPA analysis, “including the analysis of the potential impact of the new wells on emissions of greenhouse gasses such as methane.” The court granted remand, rejecting the mineral leaseholder’s argument that the agencies could not change course without supplying a “reasoned analysis indicating that prior policies and standards are being deliberately changed, not casually ignored.” The court found that the agencies’ decision to concede the plaintiff’s claims was not a reviewable action under the Administrative Procedure Act. On the issue of vacatur, the court found that the factors for determining whether to vacate an agency decision “do not point strongly in either direction” but that neither the agencies nor the mineral leaseholder established that the “atypical remedy” of remand without vacatur was appropriate. First, although there was “some possibility” the agencies would ultimately affirm the prior approvals, the defects identified by the plaintiffs—including understating methane emissions by 142%—were “serious and substantial.” Second, the court concluded that “some degree of disruption” to the mineral leaseholder seemed “inevitable” unless the leaseholder “is allowed to forge ahead unabated on the strength of a Plan that the Agencies concede was erroneously approved,” so that the “disruption of existing expectations” factor was neutral or tipped in favor of vacatur. Third, the “environmental harm during remand” factor was “mostly neutral” since the plaintiffs did not show that the effects of drilling during remand would be “sufficiently significant, on their own.” The court also rejected the argument that vacatur was not appropriate unless the court made a finding on the merits that the agencies’ decisions were unlawful. 05/10/2021 Complaint Download Complaint filed. Lawsuit Challenged Master Development Plan for Oil and Gas Development in Colorado. Five environmental groups filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the District of Colorado challenging federal defendants’ approval of the North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan (MDP), which allowed drilling of 35 horizontal gas wells in an area on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. The groups alleged that “[t]here remains a fundamental disconnect between public land management for energy production, particularly in the West, … and the scientific consensus on the climate crisis and what must be done in the near future to mitigate its worst effects.” They asserted that the federal defendants failed to take a hard look at greenhouse gas emissions, including downstream indirect impacts, cumulative impacts of project emissions, and the context and intensity of emissions. The plaintiffs said the defendants should have employed the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases or carbon budgeting to evaluate the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. The plaintiffs also alleged a failure to take a hard look at methane waste, including by using an outdated global warming potential for methane. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants did not consider alternatives or conditions to reduce impacts such as methane reduction technologies or best management practices.