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Oil, Gas Trade Groups Join Defendants In NEPA Exclusion Suit

MOBILE, Ala. - Oil and gas trade associations who stand to lose drilling rights have been allowed to intervene as defendants in an environmental group's effort to halt drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico under an exclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In Defenders of Wildlife v. Minerals Management Service, et al. (No. 10-0254, S.D. Ala.), the plaintiffs challenge the Minerals Management Service's (MMS) practice of granting categorical exclusions from NEPA review to exploratory oil and gas drilling operations in the gulf.

Defenders of Wildlife seek a declaration that MMS, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acted arbitrarily and capriciously and in violation of NEPA by granting the exclusions; a declaration that the MMS handbook authorizing categorical exclusions for exploratory wells and drilling is arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law; vacatur and remand of all exclusions granted since April 20, 2010; an injunction barring MMS from issuing further exclusions; and vacatur and remand of certain oil and gas lease sales and injunction of current and future lease sales until a supplemental environmental impact statement has been prepared.

On Aug. 9, Chief U.S. District Judge William H. Steele in the Southern District of Alabama granted the unopposed motion to intervene by American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, U.S. Oil & Gas Association and International Association of Drilling Contractors.

The judge found that the associations' members would be directly and profoundly impacted by the relief sought by the plaintiffs because it would take away drilling rights already granted.  Many of the challenged drilling operations are being conducted by their members.

The judge found the associations meet the requirements for intervention.

Additionally, the judge granted the plaintiff's unopposed motion to file a second amended complaint.  The environmental group said an amendment is required to update various factual statements regarding the Deepwater Horizon spill and to include claims for violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Catherine M. Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center, Gilbert Broughton Rogers in Atlanta and Michael Senatore and Sierra B. Weaver of the Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, D.C., represent the plaintiffs.  Guillermo A. Montero, James D. Gette, Michael D. Thorp and Joanna K. Brinkman of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and Gary A. Moore of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Mobile, Ala., represent the government defendants.

Counsel to the intervenors are Brian P. McCarthy of McDowell Knight Roedder & Sledge in Mobile, Ala., and Bradley Keith Ervin and Steven J. Rosenbaum of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

Download the original complaint.

Download the motion to intervene.

Download the order granting the motion to intervene.

This update first appeared in HB's Oil Litigation & Insurance Coverage Report.  Developments like this and more will be discussed at the conference titled "Oil in the Gulf: Litigation & Insurance Coverage" scheduled for Nov. 4-5 in Miami produced by HB Litigation Conferences.  For more information, visit subscribers can find Deepwater Horizon-related filings here.  If you do not have a ID, you can get information on how to subscribe here.