Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: District Court Grants Summary Judgment to Mineral Owners Against the U.S. Forest Service

In Minard Run Oil Co. v. United States Forest Serv., C.A. No. 09-125 Erie (W.D. Pa. September 6, 2012) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers], Judge Sean J. McLaughlin of the Western District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment to plaintiff mineral owners in the ongoing litigation over the Forest Service's attempt to impose a moratorium on new drilling permits in the Allegheny National Forest.

In 2009, Judge McLaughlin granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs enjoining the Forest Service's moratorium on new permits in the ANF, which was itself the product of a settlement of prior litigation between environmental advocates and Forest Service. This injunction was upheld by the Third Circuit in 2011, affirming the District Court's holding that the moratorium violated the Administrative Procedure Act's notice and comment and provisions, and that the Forest Service's approval of drilling plans submitted by oil and gas owners were not major actions triggering review under the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA").

In denying the Forest Service's motion for summary judgment, the District Court held that the Third Circuit's decision precluded various arguments set forth by the Forest Service. The District Court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, but denied their request for a permanent injunction, holding that only declaratory relief was appropriate at this time. The Court vacated the settlement agreement, and converted the District Court's 2009 order into a declaratory judgment that no NEPA review was required for drilling approvals and that the Forest Service's moratorium was illegal. 

Russell L. Schetroma focuses his practice in the areas of energy and oil and gas law. Nathaniel Holland focuses his practice on oil and gas law, including business transactions and litigation.

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