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.