Appeals court affirms dismissal of Sierra Club lawsuit

Corpus Christi Caller-Times

August 27, 2003

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas- An appeals court on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit the Sierra Club had filed over gas drilling on Padre Island and its impact on endangered sea turtles.

"It's unfortunate, but there are other ways to fight this," said Fred Richardson, campaign coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club's Padre Island Campaign. He says other tactics can include grassroots efforts, which are already under way.

The Sierra Club had alleged that the government failed to comply with a portion of the Endangered Species Act when it adopted an oil and gas management plan for the Padre Island Seashore and granted BNP Petroleum Corp. a site specific drilling permit.

The Sierra Club sued Interior Secretary Gale Norton, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and Corpus Christi-based BNP intervened.

Richardson said they wanted the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service to produce a scientific study of the potential impact on the turtles.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that a lower court did not have jurisdiction and the Park Service did not act arbitrarily in informally consulting the Fish and Wildlife Service before granting BNP site specific well permits.

The 5th Circuit said the Park Service identified possible effects of the project on the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. It says that the Park Service also considered the impact of BNP's use of as many as 20 trucks during the drilling period, noting that there has not been a documented case of a Kemp's ridley being crushed by traffic in the more than 20 years that the beach has been open to traffic.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the ruling is good news for the Texas Permanent School Fund and the school children of Texas, who will benefit from royalties from the drilling.

He said the decision should "take the chill off" companies deciding to drill there.

The Park Service acquired 133,000 acres of the island in 1962. But what the federal government bought was surface rights, not subterranean. Those mineral rights were retained by original property owners, including the state of Texas.

The 68-mile long national seashore is the longest natural barrier island in the world and is home to 13 endangered or threatened species, including the Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, green, and hawksbill sea turtles.


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