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Judge denies preliminary injunction on Converse oil, gas project

A federal district judge has denied a request to stop the Converse County Oil and Gas project, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Nov. 6.

A drill rig in Converse County. (David Korzilius/BLM/FlickrCC)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — A federal district judge has denied a request to stop the Converse County Oil and Gas project, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Nov. 6.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Tanya Chutkan’s court opinion said that Powder River Basin Resource Council and Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and the BLM, seeking to stop certain federally approved oil drilling in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and further drilling approvals, because, they claimed, the entities did not follow laws that are supposed to protect the environment.

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Converse County project and the BLM began approving hundreds of drilling permits. In September 2022, the plaintiffs sued, citing the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Mineral Leasing Act. In March, Continental Resources, Devon Energy Production Company L.P., Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Anschutz Exploration Corp. and the State of Wyoming motioned to transfer or dismiss. Wyoming owns 7% of the surface acres of the Converse County Project Area.

The opinion said Chutkan decided the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ Applications for Permits to Drill claims in Counts II, III, IV, V and VI, and they will be dismissed. The intervenors did not prove that the court action could have been brought to the District of Wyoming.

Chutkan said the plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their claims because they did not allege their members use areas affected by the applications they challenged.

“Although Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction and supporting exhibits total more than 5,000 pages, they have not specified any particular APD or any surrounding area affected by any pollutants traceable to any particular APD (air, noise, water, visual etc.),” the decision said.

The plaintiffs’ decision to wait nearly 21 months after the BLM and the Department of the Interior issued their decision to bring the suit and another more than six months to move for a preliminary injunction and wanted 11 more days to file their reply because of counsel’s planned two-week leave also weigh against granting preliminary injunctive relief.

“Judge Chutkan’s decision is a major win for Wyoming,” Gordon said in a news release. “As I stated when this lawsuit was filed, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was a result of a years-long cooperative process that included Federal agencies, state and local government, industry, and private landowners. All worked together to develop a plan that allowed energy development while protecting our state’s wildlife and natural resources.”

Powder River Basin Resource Council Executive Director Robin Englehart-Bagley said in an email the afternoon of Nov. 7 that her organization does not have comment on the litigation.

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