Ruling aimed at Big Thicket Judge says park service must assess drilling more thoroughly
Saturday, October 28, 2006
By TOM FOWLER
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
A federal judge has ruled that the National Park Service must do a more thorough job of assessing the potential environmental impact of oil and gas drilling near the Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas.
A number of energy companies have drilled into reserves under the preserve from locations outside its boundaries in recent years, a practice intended to limit environmental impact on the protected lands.
In a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club against the park service, U.S. District Judge John Bates said environmental assessments the park service did of the drilling operations were " ... not supported by reasoned explanations, and hence are arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion."
The park service's reviews used vague language that was "wholly uninformative" and reached conclusions with "little or no explanation of how NPS reached them." The judge ordered the park service to redo the assessments by providing more details.
Park service officials are still reviewing the decision to determine what they must do to comply with the orders, said Carol McCoy, chief of planning, evaluation and permitting in the park service's Geologic Resources Division.
"It looks like we may be doing additional analysis," McCoy said.
It does not appear the decision will require the companies that have done the drilling to take any action, McCoy notes.
Sierra Club officials called the judge's opinion a victory.
Brandt Mannchen, chairman of the Big Thicket Committee for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in a prepared statement that his hope was that the decision will help the park service "do a better job of revealing to the public what the possible impacts are and how they assess that."
The Big Thicket National Preserve covers over 88,000 noncontiguous acres of East Texas pine forest.