Thursday, January 7, 2010

Salazar Unveils Oil and Gas Reforms

Finally! Someone is paying attention to what is happening to our public lands. While public lands are often used to create revenue for states, they exist for the benefit of us all and they should be cared for appropriately. Given the overall lack of regulatory capacity of the agencies that oversee oil and gas development, it is nice to hear that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is introducing reforms that will actually take the land itself into account when these leases are considered.

Here is an excerpt from one of many articles regarding this issue:

Salazar Unveils Oil and Gas Reforms
The new reform package replaces Bush's 'anywhere, anyhow' drilling policy, Salazar says.

By David Frey, 1-06-10

Taking aim at the Bush administration’s approach to oil and gas leasing, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled a slate of reforms on Wednesday intended to better protect land, water and wildlife and reduce the number of protests filed by environmental groups and others at odds with leasing decisions.

“The previous administration’s ‘anywhere, anyhow’ policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry,” Salazar said on Wednesday.

The package of reforms arose in part from an examination of controversial gas leases in Utah, many of which were close to national parks and archeological resources. After studying those parcels last year, Salazar removed many from leasing and required further studies for others.

The reform package won praise from some environmental and sportsmen’s groups but criticism from industry supporters who say the new rules will only bring further delays to companies already hit hard by falling fuel prices.

“Secretary Salazar’s misguided proposal couldn’t come at a worse time for this economy,” said Colorado state Rep. Josh Penry, a Republican from Grand Junction, where gas jobs have vanished from what had been a once-booming gas patch. “These rules will destroy jobs and reduce domestic energy production at a time when Colorado and America need a lot more of both.”

The reforms call for interdisciplinary reviews that look at site-specific considerations for individual leases, including in some cases, site visits to the individual parcels. They call for greater public involvement in individual lease sales and in developing area plans where intensive drilling is anticipated. While the rules will still allow industry to recommend lease areas, they will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and call for careful planning in new areas.

The reforms also seek to limit the use of categorical exclusions, which fast-track leases on sometimes controversial sites.

“For too long, leasing has occurred with minimal thought given to the impacts on fish and wildlife, water resources, and hunting and fishing opportunity,” said Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s chief operating officer. His group called Salazar’s reforms a “good start, but said Interior needs to do more to rein in industry’s impacts on public lands.

“It’s a good start toward reining in what can only be described as unchecked oil and gas extraction that has already taken a toll on the important places for hunters and anglers in the West,” said Brad Powell, energy director for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, but he said they fall short of more comprehensive reforms that are needed.

Salazar said the new rules will bring order and certainty to the leasing process. Industry groups have complained that leasing has become too bureaucratic and unpredictable, but Salazar said past practices too often left leases tied up in litigation for months.

In 1998, he said, just over 1 percent of gas leases on public land were protested. Ten years later, that number grew to 40 percent. More>>>