Salazar defends oil and gas leasing policies

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar lashed back Tuesday at industry trade group suggestions that he and the Obama administration have hindered drilling through their oil and gas leasing policies.

“We believe that our oil and gas leasing program is robust, but it is also a program that we have brought back into balance,” Salazar said during a media teleconference.

Salazar said industry trade groups were spreading untruths and engaging in election-year politics in their criticisms.

“Trade groups for the oil and gas industry need to understand that they do not own public land, taxpayers do,” Salazar said.

While declining to name names, Salazar appeared to be responding at least in part to recent position papers released by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States. Those papers criticized the Interior Department’s oil and gas leasing program in general and its recent decision to withdraw or defer leasing on all but 17 of 77 Utah parcels for which leases were sold last December.

The group also specifically criticized the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to defer leasing of 7,750 acres near McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction, to allow for completion of local resource management plans by the BLM. It said land-management decisions such as leasing ordinarily are made according to current plans and shouldn’t be held indefinitely to await plan updates or other possible policy decisions.

IPAMS says that compared to the Clinton administration, the Obama administration issued 1,934 fewer leases for 1.1 million fewer acres through the Sept. 30 end of its first fiscal year, or 32 and 46 percent less, respectively.

It says the Interior Department is holding about $100 million worth of unissued and suspended leases in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming because of unresolved lease protests by environmental groups.

Salazar said his department has offered more than 2.7 million acres in the West for lease this year, and next year it will have 38 quarterly lease sales, offering thousands of parcels in a dozen states, mostly in the West.

He said companies deserve more certainty that they will be issued the leases they win in auctions. But he said the problem has been “shortcuts” taken by the Bush administration that led to circumstances such as leases being offered next to national parks, resulting in protests and litigation.

BLM director Bob Abbey told reporters that leases sales are based on nominations by companies, and the sharp decline in natural gas prices has helped dictate federal leasing activity.

Representatives of conservation groups on Wednesday spoke in support of Salazar’s oil and gas policies.

“The sportsmen’s community is very encouraged by what we’re hearing from the secretary and the administration,” said Joel Webster, associate director of campaigns for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s western lands programs.

Webster said his group doesn’t oppose oil and gas leasing, but it needs to occur in a way that protects the viability of other public lands uses. He believes past leasing has failed to ensure preservation of wildlife for hunting and fishing.

“The way things have been occurring over the last 10 years, things have been broken,” he said.

Webster said his group would rather not protest leases, but instead work with the government and industry at the beginning of the process to better balance competing interests.

In that regard, IPAMS sounded a somewhat similar theme in a statement Tuesday, saying that “developing American clean energy requires a partnership with government and community stakeholders.

“We are all accountable to the American public to ensure that responsible development occurs. As such, we don’t believe it’s unreasonable to ask the Department of Interior to explain the rationale for its decisions and express concern when trends are not headed in the right direction,” the group said.

IPAMS said management of federal energy has profound implications “for the cost of energy, job creation, revenue and economic activity,” and it was encouraged to hear Salazar talk about greater need for industry certainty regarding leases.

THE VILLAGES, Fla. — Sarah Palin, who says the 2012 presidential election isn’t on her radar, took her “Going Rogue” book tour to the biggest of the battleground states Tuesday, including a stop in the retirement community where tens of thousands of people gave her star treatment in the 2008 presidential election.

The crowd was far smaller than when she made a September 2008 campaign stop as Republican John McCain’s running mate, but no less passionate for the former Alaska governor. About 700 people, some who arrived a full 24 hours before the signing, waited for Palin. Several signs encouraged her to run for president in 2012.


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