Federal oil and gas lease lawsuit transferred to Utah venue

Red Cliffs Reserve, St. George, UT 2010 | Photo courtesy of Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Utah Attorney General’s Office has successfully moved a lawsuit involving 77 oil and gas leases in eastern Utah to being litigated in a federal court in Utah. In December, 2008, the Southern Utah Wilderness Association and other groups sued to stop the leases at a U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

“This ruling will set an important legal precedent that cases involving Utah lands should not be heard in Washington, D.C.,” said Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General John Swallow.  “Utah’s economy has been hurt due to the canceling of these oil and gas leases and the uncertainty caused by this litigation. Justice has been delayed and detoured but hopefully justice will be found soon to provide more Utah jobs and less money spent at the gas pumps.”

The lawsuit and a companion lawsuit filed by environmental groups in 2010 involve challenges to six Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plans covering most of the BLM managed lands in Utah. The Attorney General’s Office moved to transfer venue to Utah from Washington D.C. shortly after intervening in the litigation.

On Feb. 29, D.C. District Judge Ricardo Urbina approved moving the case to Utah, nearly three years after the Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to change the venue.

“The fact that this controversy will affect the use of discrete parcels of land counsels towards transfer to the judicial district where that land is located,” wrote Judge Urbina. “While there can be no debate about the objective natural beauty of these locations, this fact alone does not suffice to create a national interest that outweighs Utah’s strong local interest in having local controversies decided within its borders.”

The BLM approved the leases and the plans but Judge Urbina issued an injunction to stay the leases until the Obama administration could review them.

The State of Utah and Carbon County have been represented by Assistant Attorney General Harry Souvall. The State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration also filed a motion for the transfer.


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