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Montana Wildlife Federation v. Montana Board of Oil & Gas Conservation

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20143
Nos. 11-0537, (Mont., 06/19/2012)

The Montana Supreme Court upheld the state oil and gas board's issuance of 23 gas well permits to an oil company in the area known as the Cedar Creek Anticline, a major geologic feature that extends for nearly 120 miles and is home to various animal species, most notably the sage grouse. Environmental groups argued that the 23 individual EAs prepared by the board for gas development in the area failed to comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), but the court disagreed. The administrative record contains hundreds of pages of documentation of the board's analysis of gas well drilling in the area in question over many years. The compilation of data from two major environmental studies in 1989 and 2003, along with other board documentation and scientific literature, coupled with the institutionalized knowledge of staff, provides an extensive information base upon which the board could draw in concluding that the addition of 23 wells in a heavily developed field would have limited impact. In addition, the board was not arbitrary or capricious in its determination that drilling 23 wells in an existing field of over 1,000, with most of the necessary infrastructure already in place and minimal anticipated impacts, was not a major state action necessitating a programmatic EIS.