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COPPER VALLEY MACH. WORKS v. ANDRUS

June 29, 1979

Copper Valley Machine Works, Inc., Plaintiff,
v.
Cecil D. Andrus et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Introduction

 This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon consideration of these motions, memoranda in support thereof and the entire record, the Court concludes that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

 Plaintiff, Copper Valley Machine Works, Inc. (hereinafter "Copper Valley"), as designated operator, is before the Court seeking an order directing the Secretary of the Interior to extend by one year the term of non-competitive Oil and Gas Lease No. A-063937. This lease was originally issued to Edward M. Devine on February 1, 1966 for a primary term of ten years pursuant to 30 U.S.C. § 226(e).

 Copper Valley applied for a permit to drill an exploratory well on Lease A-063937 on January 19, 1976. The permit was issued by the United States Geological Service (hereinafter "USGS") on January 30, 1976, subject to the conditions that drilling operations be conducted during the winter season only and that the access trails could not be used during the period of April 15 through November 15 unless the Bureau of Land Management gave its approval. Copper Valley made no objection to these conditions and commenced drilling on January 31, 1976, the last day of the primary lease.

 On January 20, 1978, Copper Valley wrote to USGS stating that its operations had been suspended by order of the United States Government for a total of twelve months during the two-year lease extension, and requesting that its lease be extended to allow twelve additional months of operations to compensate for the two periods of summer shutdown in 1976 and 1977.

 On May 22, 1978, the Secretary of the Interior denied what he construed to be a requested 12-month suspension of operations and production for the lease pursuant to 43 C.F.R. § 3103.3-8. *fn1" On July 17, 1978, the Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor, Alaska Area, informed Copper Valley of the Secretary's denial of its request, and on August 18, 1977, Copper Valley filed this lawsuit complaining that the Secretary's denial was unlawful and praying for a declaratory judgment and mandamus to the Secretary, ordering that Copper Valley be permitted to conduct operations on the lease to compensate for the twelve months of the lease term during which operations were interrupted.

 Discussion

 The core of this matter is whether the winter-only operating restriction on Copper Valley's drilling permit constituted a "suspension of operations and production" under the lease within the meaning of 30 U.S.C. § 209 as argued by plaintiff, thereby entitling it to a mandatory compensating extension, or whether the restriction was a condition imposed by the drilling permit and incorporated into the lease so that the Secretary had the authority to deny properly the request under 43 C.F.R. § 3103.3-8(a) because plaintiff had not established a well capable of production on the leasehold. *fn2"

 In support of its position that the winter-only restriction constituted a "suspension of operations and production," plaintiff argues that its original lease contained no winter-only restriction, and that its extension entitled it to an additional two years of the full enjoyment of the rights contained in the lease. The Court, however, concludes that all provisions of the drilling permit, which was issued during the primary term of the lease, were incorporated into the lease. Plaintiff has cited no authority which convinces this Court otherwise. These winter access conditions were designed to protect the surface environment and prevent pollution. They were imposed as part of the Secretary's approval of the permit to drill. They were agreed to by plaintiff. *fn3" They could have been imposed at any time the lease operator applied for a drilling permit. That the Secretary has the authority and responsibility to protect the environment of public lands within federal oil and gas leases is beyond dispute. This Circuit recognized that responsibility in California Company v. Udall, 111 U.S.App.D.C. 262, 296 F.2d 384 (1961), holding that under the Mineral Leasing Act, the Secretary of the Interior

 
has a responsibility to insure that these resources are not physically wasted and that their extraction accords with prudent principles of conservation. At 388.
 
The Secretary has the discretion to incorporate general standards into the lease which are aimed at ameliorating environmental damage but which may not be ...

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