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November 10, 2005.

UNITED STATES BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, a bureau within the Department of the Interior; GALE A. NORTON, in her official capacity as the Secretary of the Interior; and TED A. MURPHY, in his official capacity as the Assistant Field Manager, Lands & Minerals, Bureau of Land & Management, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD LEON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION (November 10, 2005 [#10, 13]

Plaintiffs, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Wyoming Wilderness Association, and Wyoming Chapter of the Sierra Club (collectively "Biodiversity" or "plaintiffs"), bring this action against the United States Bureau of Land Management ("BLM"), Gale A. Norton, the Secretary of the Interior, and Ted A. Murphy, the Assistant Field Manager in BLM's Rock Springs, Wyoming Field Office (collectively "BLM," "the agency," or "defendants"). Plaintiffs contend that the BLM's December 9, 2003 Decision Record and Finding of No Significant Impact ("DR/FONSI") authorizing the Hay Reservoir 3D Geophysical Project ("Hay Reservoir Project" or "Project") violates the Administrative Procedure Act's ("APA") prohibition against agency decision making that is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)(2003). More precisely, plaintiffs argue that the BLM's approval of the Project violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ("FLPMA"), 43 U.S.C. §§ 1701 et seq. and the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq.*fn1 Compl. ¶ 1. Pending before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the entire record herein, the Court finds that the agency's action was neither arbitrary, capricious, nor an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the defendants' motion is GRANTED and the plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.


  A. Factual Background

  The proposed action at issue in this case, the Hay Reservoir 3D Project, seeks to explore for oil and natural gas reserves in a 279 square mile tract of land in southwestern Wyoming. Environmental Assessment ("EA") at 1, Administrative Record ("AR") 32. Pursuant to the Project, potential reserves will be detected through a 3D seismic testing technique, which involves generating ground vibrations or seismic waves and recording the waves at various source points and receiver points located throughout the project area. Id. The process will yield an underground map of potential oil and natural gas reserves. Pls.' Mot. For Summ. Judg., Ex. 4 at 2.

  Preparing the project area and conducting the seismic operation is a multi-step process. Id. at 4. A crew of eight to twelve surveyors must first stake and tag sixty-two "receiver lines" and sixty-one "source lines" throughout the project are a using global positioning system ("GPS") technology.*fn2 Id. at 4-5. Once a sufficient number of lines are staked and tagged with receiver and source points, vibrator buggies ("vibe-buggies" or "buggies") are used to generate seismic waves. Id. at 6.

  Working in pairs, the buggies proceed along source lines pursuant to a predetermined route. At each source point, the buggies lower 4.5 by 7.5 foot vibrator pads from their undercarriage. Id. The vibrator pads shake the ground and send shock waves throughout subsurface soil and rock. EA at 6, AR 32. Each vibe-buggy is 12 feet 6 inches high, 35 feet 6 inches long, and 11 feet 6 inches wide; they weigh 62,000 pounds and are equipped with 43 inch wide tires with a ground pressure of 16 pounds per square inch. Id.

  The project area encompasses 178,560 acres of public and private land in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.*fn3 EA at 1, AR 32. The project area is also located within the Red Desert Watershed Management Area, an area designated to protect visual, watershed, and wildlife resources. Id. at 3. Plaintiffs argue that the seismic-testing operation will adversely affect and irreparably injure native species, habitats, ecosystems and resources contained within this area. Compl. ¶ 32.

  B. Procedural Background

  In December 2001, Veritas DGC Land Incorporated ("Veritas") filed a Notice of Intent ("NOI") with the BLM, an agency within the Department of the Interior, to Conduct Oil and Gas Geophysical Exploration Operations. AR 123. On April 30, 2002, BLM issued a news release soliciting public comments on the proposed Project for thirty days. AR 108. The news release indicated that the project area would encompass about 210 square miles. Id. Plaintiffs submitted two sets of comments during the scoping period. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") ¶¶ 9-19; Defs.' Statement of Material Facts and Issues at 11, ¶ 13.

  On October 16, 2003, after the public comment period elapsed, Veritas sent a letter to the BLM requesting that the boundaries on the proposed project area be revised and expanded. AR 43. In December 2003, the BLM issued a DR/FONSI approving the proposed action pursuant to an EA also issued that month. DR/FONSI at 2, AR 32. The BLM concluded that the Project would: (1) primarily impact vegetation and visual resources in the project area; (2) displace approximately three percent of the ground surface; and (3) potentially damage or kill a percentage of brush within the vibe-buggy tire paths. EA at 30, AR 32. The BLM also expanded the project area by sixty-nine square miles from that referenced in the initial news release. Id.

  Thereafter, plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal and a Petition for Stay with the Department of Interior's Interior Board of Land Appeals ("IBLA"). Pls.' SMF ¶ 21. After the IBLA denied plaintiffs' Petition for Stay, plaintiffs filed a Notice of Dismissal of Appeal, and commenced the instant action. Id. ¶ 25. In the instant action, plaintiffs seek an order declaring the DR/FONSI and EA violative of the APA and NEPA, Compl. at 17, ¶¶ A-B, and an injunction preventing the BLM from implementing the Project, id. ¶ E.

  II. ...

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