Feds seek extension of deadline in oil shale suits

Feds seek extension of deadline in oil shale suits

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) -- Federal officials have requested a fourth extension of a deadline to respond to lawsuits over plans to open nearly 2 million acres of public land in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado to commercial oil shale development.

Environmentalists filed the lawsuits when President George W. Bush was still in office. The Obama administration said in a filing in federal court in Denver last week that newly appointed officials need time to review the issues.

The government wants 30 more days to file its response.

In a previous request for more time, officials said they were awaiting the confirmations of President Barack Obama's nominations of Bob Abbey as director of the Bureau of Land Management and Wilma Lewis as assistant secretary for lands and minerals management in the Interior Department.

The two, who will have oversight over oil shale matters, were confirmed Aug. 7 by the Senate.

"Although their nominations have been confirmed, Ms. Lewis and Mr. Abbey are in the process of being briefed on a number of issues that they will be required to address in their official capacities, including the issues raised in this case," the government said in its new motion Friday.

The other parties aren't opposing the extension.

The two lawsuits challenging oil shale plans approved by the Bush administration claim federal officials improperly curtailed public comment and didn't consider the development's potential effects on climate change, air quality or endangered species.

The shale deposits are thought to hold more than 1 trillion barrels of oil. Roughly 800 billion barrels of that are believed to be recoverable.

But the technology to free the oil from the rock is still being developed. Federal and industry officials have said commercial development is likely at least a decade away.

Shell Frontier Oil and Gas, which has three federal leases for oil shale research and development in northwest Colorado, and the American Petroleum Institute have intervened in the case in support of the government. Under the government's motion, they would have 30 more days to respond to amendments that conservation groups made to their original lawsuits.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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