Judge Blocks Oil and Gas Leases in Utah Wilderness

     (CN) – Citing the potential “irreparable harm to public land,” a federal judge on Saturday temporarily stopped the Bureau of Land Management from selling oil and natural gas leases on nearly 110,000 acres of redrock land in Utah.

     U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington granted a temporary restraining order to seven environmental groups who contested the leases, saying they were issued without adequate environmental review.
     On Dec. 12, 2008, the BLM announced that it would lease 163,935 acres in Utah, including hundreds of acres near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The leases would have infused the BLM with millions of dollars from oil and gas companies.
     The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental groups filed suit on Dec. 17, seeking to have the leases declared invalid. They petitioned for a temporary restraining order three days before Christmas.
     The judge agreed that the BLM failed to consider the effect of air pollution in areas outside Nine Mile Canyon, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
     In issuing the temporary restraining order, Judge Urbina also noted the potential harm to public land.
     “Because of the threat of irreparable harm to public land if the leases are issued,” Urbina wrote, “the balancing of equities also tips in favor” of the plaintiffs.
     Urbina’s order gives the defendants until Jan. 23 to file additional briefing on the issue of a preliminary injunction, and gives the plaintiffs until Jan. 30 to file a response.

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