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Amoco Production Co. V. Southern Ute Indian Tribe: Restatement or Revolution?

Bruce M. Kramer, Proceedings of 45th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1999)

As my esteemed academic cohort and friend has said: Courts have devotedand mostly wasteduncountable millions of words in trying to define the appropriate scope of judicial review of administrative agency decisions.1 Having tilted at windmills and destroyed my share of wood pulp at least once before,2 I leapt at the opportunity to analyze these issues in the context of the litigation styled Amoco Production Co. v. Southern Ute Indian Tribe.3 I will do so by briefly analyzing some of the doctrines and dynamics that affect how a court opts to review a particular administrative decision, rule, or interpretation. I will also review briefly some special rules or canons of construction relating to public land law that may affect how a court reviews such decisions, rules, or interpretations. Then I will relate the factual background for Southern Ute followed by a review of the various court opinions issued in this case. Finally, I will analyze how state courts have dealt with the issue of the ownership of coalbed methane gas in the context of deed, rather than statutory, interpretation.