RENO, Nev. (AP) — A federal judge plans to decide next week whether to block the release of oil and gas leases in Nevada that critics say will be used for hydraulic fracturing and cause more environmental harm than the Bureau of Land Management admits.
Lawyers for the Reese River Basin Citizens Against Fracking urged U.S. District Judge Miranda Du on Wednesday to issue an emergency order to prevent the BLM from formally issuing the leases later this month in an area stretching across about 270 square miles of central Nevada.
Lawyers representing the BLM said that while the leases were sold in July, there won't be any formal agency action until they actually are issued as early as Sept. 15. They argue the matter isn't ripe for legal challenge until BLM decides whether to issue additional permits allowing drilling.
Du indicated she tended to agree with the government lawyers but won't issue a ruling until the end of next week.
"My concern is the plaintiff may have acted too quickly in filing the lawsuit and not waited for final agency action," she said after more than two hours of oral arguments in her Reno courtroom.
Reno attorney Glade Hall said the BLM's environmental assessment was inadequate and had no basis to conclude that issuing the leases will have little or no impact on fish and wildlife or precious groundwater supplies in the high desert that opponents fear could become contaminated, depleted or both.
He said the BLM's argument that the agency may not actually follow through with issuing the leases was a legal smoke screen.
"Why go through the process of the sale if they do not intend to issue the lease?" he asked. "It seems to me there is a game that is being played here."
Hall said BLM has supplemented the flawed environmental assessment with additional information that was never subject to public comment.
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