U.S. Interior: Reform Oil and Gas Rules

By Libby Casey

The Obama Administration has announced reforms to the nation’s ONSHORE

oil and gas leasing program. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said yesterday (Weds) it means closer scrutiny of lease sales, more public input, and stricter environmental reviews.

We are announcing major reforms of the nation’s onshore oil and gas leasing program, that will result in better protection of America’s great outdoors and public lands, it will result in more certainly for investors and the oil and gas industry, it will also result in better value and better leasing decisions on behalf of the American tax payer.

Under Salazar’s direction, the Bureau of Land Management is issuing a

new draft leasing policy for agency review that will require better

environmental documentation and more public participation.  Salazar

says that should curb protests, and reduce the amount of money spent

litigating controversial sales.

Many of the areas offered for leasing since 2001 where highly

controversial including areas that were in municipal watersheds, areas that involved important wildlife habitats, lands with wilderness characteristics, and lands that were close to national parks.  Because there seemed to be little rhyme or reason to which areas were leased,  western landscapes were being carved up and fragmented.

The Secretary says B-L-M will engage the public in “Master Leasing and

Development Plans” before allowing leasing in areas where intensive

development could occur.

In Alaska, the changes could affect lease sales in the National

Petroleum Reserve Alaska, but the impact is expected to be greater in

Lower 48 states where leases are done more often on a quarterly basis.

The B-L-M office in Alaska said yesterday (Weds) it would not comment

since the changes are in draft form.

Environmental groups like the Alaska Wilderness League welcomed the

news.  Jeremiah Millen in its Anchorage office says he hopes the

changes steer B-L-M toward protecting public lands for future


It’s definitely a positive change in tone.  I think we’ll wait to see

exactly what it means.  However any greater scrutiny over oil and gas leasing and efforts to include a better review of leasing before it takes place I think is better not only for the environment and all those who depend on it.

Alaska’s Senators warned the new procedures could delay oil and gas

development.  Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski’s energy-issues spokesman Robert Dillon says it could reduce domestic production.

This does nothing to improve our energy security or help the economy.  This is simply another step by the administration to decrease domestic  oil and gas production and increase our dependency on foreign nations.

The oil and gas trade group the American Petroleum Institute called

Salazar’s comments “double talk.”  Senior Policy Advisor Richard

Ranger says it could make leasing on public lands more difficult:

We’re disappointed in this direction that the secretary has taken.  We think that the outcome of these measures will be to impose new delays,  new hurdles, and new restrictions on the orderly exploration and development of energy resources in the American west.

Secretary Salazar bristled at the suggestion that he’s trying to shut

down development.  He says the changes could bring more clarity to the

industry, instead of tying up leases with court challenges.  But he

said the public’s interest is the top priority – not the oil and gas


In the past the public lands were the essential candy store of the oil and gas industry.  Walk in and take whatever they wanted.  That’s not the way it ought to be done.

Officials said B-L-M will continue to accept industry suggestions of

where to hold lease sales, but it will focus on areas already open to

development and examine new areas with careful scrutiny.


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