Nevada Group Loses Bid to Block Feared Fracking

     RENO, NEV. (CN) – A citizens group lost its fight to stop the federal government from leasing 231,000 acres of public lands in Northern Nevada to energy companies intent on extracting oil and natural gas through fracking.
     The U.S. District Court of Nevada ruled the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has not made a final decision on the leases despite holding a lease sale on July 17, and dismissed the case without a defendant motion to do so.
     “Although BLM has conducted a lease sale, it retains discretion to issue any leases resulting from the lease sale,” wrote U.S. District Judge Miranda M. Du. “Because the plaintiff seeks to enjoin an agency decision that is not yet final, the court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review BLM’s action.”
     The court earlier denied an emergency preliminary injunction request from the Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking, which wanted to enjoin the Bureau from going carrying out the July lease sale. The group could not “demonstrate irreparable harm because the lease sale would not result in the automatic issuance of leases,” Du concluded at the time.
     The citizens group is comprised of landowners with “ranching and farming land, water rights and grazing rights in proximity to and over land that BLM has proposed for oil and gas leasing,” the opinion said..
     Reese River, in northeastern Nevada, is part of the Humboldt River drainage, which provided an historic route for settlers across the Sierra Nevada. The lands in question are located in Esmeralda, Nye and Lander counties.
     The group sued the BLM and the Secretary of the Interior in Federal Court on June 27claiming the defendants announced the sale of the oil and gas leases without properly analyzing “many of the significant environmental effects of the oil and gas development that could occur upon development of the leases.”
     The BLM posted an initial environmental assessment finding no significant impacts from potential oil and gas leases and has continually updated its environmental assessment of the sale of leases, with the most recent occurring on Aug. 14, Du wrote.
     The group also claims the BLM failed to address the impacts fracking will have on water quality and the region’s limited water resources, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA), which requires the federal government to perform a thorough environmental impact study before selling leases for activities that might harm the environment.
     “‘NEPA imposes only procedural requirements,'” Du wrote. “It does not provide a private right of action. Thus, ‘the judicial review provision of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is the vehicle’ for challenging an agency’s decision under NEPA.”
     The APA only applies to “final” agency actions, which the BLM has not made yet, the judge added.
     Four protests were filed challenging the lease of specific parcels, including one from a member of the Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking, but Du said the BLM won’t lease those parcels until the challenges are “resolved.”
     “The court does not reach the merits of plaintiff’s arguments about BLM’s alleged violations of NEPA and ADA,” she wrote. “The court is compelled to dismiss this action sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

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