Photo by Linda Baker
U.S. SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR KEN SALAZAR on Wednesday announced major reforms to the way the federal government manages oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
The announcement immediately won guarded praise from conservation groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
Citing a need to improve “certainty and order” in oil and gas leasing on U.S. public lands, Salazar said the Bureau of Land Management will undertake to improve protections for land, water, and wildlife and reduce potential conflicts that can lead to costly and time-consuming protests and litigation of leases.
The Department of the Interior will also establish a new “energy reform team” to identify and implement important energy management reforms, Salazar said.
“The new initiatives should go a long way to establishing greater oversight of oil and gas lease offerings,” said Bruce Pendery, program director with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
But Pendery said a thorough analysis of the reforms will be impossible until more details are provided by the Interior Department.
“These reforms seem to represent a major step in the right direction for onshore oil and gas management,” Pendery said. “They will help restore balance, accountability, and common sense to a system that had essentially become single use rather than multiple use.”
The new initiatives should create better oversight of the federal oil and gas program by requiring “interdisciplinary” review of nominated lease parcels, he said. Such a review would include input not only from the oil and gas experts — as had been the practice in the past — but from experts such as wildlife biologists, archaeologists, soil scientists, and others, he said.
Additionally, Salazar announced the development of a new approach to managing major oil and gas plays. The approach will include developing “master leasing and development plans,” which Pendery believes could create a more cohesive, bigger-picture approach to managing areas that are anticipated to see intensive new oil and gas development.
“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 in his announcement. “We need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans’ energy resources.”
The federal Bureau of Land Management is issuing new guidance for local field managers that will help bring clarity, consistency, and public engagement to the onshore oil and gas leasing process while balancing the many resource values that the BLM is entrusted with protecting on behalf of the American people, Salazar said.
“In addition, with the help of our new energy reform team, we will improve the Department’s internal operations to better manage publicly owned energy resources and the revenues they produce,” Salazar said.
Pendery agreed these changes are both necessary and overdue.
“We should see greater oversight of where leasing will occur, and greater public involvement at all levels, which is an important step forward,” Pendery said. “The plan to emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and allowing leasing in new areas only after careful planning is commendable.”
SCALING BACK SO-CALLED ‘CATEGORICAL EXCLUSIONS’
The Interior Department is also moving toward greater oversight of so-called categorical exclusions, a tool for fast-tracking development by bypassing detailed environmental review. The use of categorical exclusions proliferated during the previous presidential administration, and conservationists, sportsmen’s groups and others have long-argued that the tool was being abused in places such as Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline Field, at the expense of the environment.
A 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office — the investigative arm of congress — found that local Bureau of Land Management field offices in Wyoming and Utah, among other places, had misused or misapplied the categorical exclusions tool, and the GAO recommended reforms to the process.
“These reforms to the way categorical exclusions will be implemented are in line with the National Environmental Policy Act, and this, also, is overdue,” Pendery said.
And Pendery noted that President Barack Obama issued a proclamation on Tuesday, the day before Salazar’s announcements, recognizing the 40th anniversary of NEPA, celebrating our nation’s “basic national charter for the protection of the environment.”
Media Contact: Bruce Pendery, Wyoming Outdoor Council, 435-752-2111, firstname.lastname@example.org
* Click here for the Department of the Interior media release about the reforms.
* Click here for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s official order.
* Click here for an energy reform fact sheet.
*Photo immediately above is Western Wyoming’s Jonah natural gas field. The photo at the top of this post was taken on Western Wyoming’s Pinedale Anticline field.