Marathon Oil sues to get into roadless area

  In a case that could set a precedent for how citizen-proposed wilderness in Colorado is managed, an oil company is suing the Bureau of Land Management for pulling certain parcels from a routine oil and gas lease sale.

The Texas-based Marathon Oil company says the lands do not lie in official wilderness study areas and should be open to leasing. But after protests from the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the BLM denied Marathon's request for 10 leases in the Vermillion Basin area in the northwest corner of the state. That 88,000-acre area is part of 300,000 acres that have been informally protected pending approval of a final state bill.

"What (the BLM) is saying is that if the CEC has drawn a line around an area and says don't lease it, we won't lease it," says Marathon attorney Craig Carver. "That's not what the law says you're supposed to do."

Environmentalists say the agency has the authority to decide not to lease some lands. "Once you go and put that drill pad in, it's not going to be wilderness anymore," says Robert Wiygul, an attorney for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. It is intervening in the suit on behalf of the CEC and The Wilderness Society.

Wiygul notes that the agency has been inconsistent in its protection of citizen-proposed wilderness lands, offering some lands for lease in the past (HCN, 5/27/96). "If Marathon wins this case, it will set a very significant precedent, not just for Colorado but for Utah as well."

* Sarah Dry

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