Brakes on the gas machine

Along with many groups and individuals, The Daily Sentinel regularly criticized the pedal-to-the-metal approach to oil and gas leasing of the Bush administration. Especially in the last couple years of President George W. Bush’s term, there seemed to be an intentional — if unwritten — policy to approve as much federal-lands leasing of oil and gas as possible before a new administration took over.

President Barack Obama has been in office for 10 months, and it’s no surprise that he and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar have significantly slowed the pace of oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

And it’s hardly astonishing that industry groups are upset with that slowdown.

But the industry anguish over the leasing policies of Obama and Salazar isn’t without merit. As a news story by The Daily Sentinel’s Dennis Webb indicated Wednesday, the Obama administration has significantly slowed the pace of oil and gas leasing, not only from what President Bush’s team allowed, but from the rate of leasing set during the first year of the Clinton administration. That’s according to one industry group. The first year of the Clinton administration was hardly a time of booming gas prices, and Clinton’s secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt, was never seen as a friend of the energy industry.

In addition to the scale-back in the pace of leasing under Obama, there is also more uncertainty now about what may happen to leases already approved, because Salazar has withdrawn several leases approved earlier by the Bush administration.

We have urged Salazar to re-examine leases in one special case — the federal lands atop the Roan Plateau west of Rifle. That’s a unique situation in large part because the lessee is now projecting to drill 15 times the number of gas wells that the BLM forecast when it conducted environmental studies for the Roan leasing.

It’s true that depressed gas prices have diminished some interest in federal leases. But prices will eventually rise and there will be more demand for natural gas and gas leasing.

President Obama and Secretary Salazar need to assure energy companies they have a consistent policy on leasing that companies can depend upon when they consider bidding on leases. And they need to find a middle ground for leasing these important natural resources — something between the leadfoot approach of the Bush administration and the riding of the brakes that appears to be taking place now.


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