Groups ask BLM to suspend streamlined drilling reviews

Fifteen conservation groups are asking the Bureau of Land Management to suspend use of a streamlined approach to regulating oil and gas drilling, pending an internal review of the practice.

The groups’ request comes after the Government Accountability Office said in a September report the BLM’s use of what are called categorical exclusions in Colorado and elsewhere “has frequently been out of compliance with both the law and BLM’s guidance.”

Meanwhile, the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States has released a position paper detailing its concerns about the report. These include its contention that the GAO ignored frequent violations of the law involving the BLM’s failure to use the exclusions for drilling projects that qualified for them under criteria mandated by Congress.

Congress created the exclusions in 2005 to exempt certain drilling-related activities from the new environmental analyses that normally are required.

The GAO found the BLM used the exclusions in about 28 percent of the 22,000 drilling permit applications it approved between 2006-08. That included 413 times in the agency’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, which since has relocated to Silt.

Field offices frequently failed to adequately justify use of the exclusions, the GAO said.

In a letter to the BLM seeking the practice’s suspension, conservation groups said oil and gas development should undergo comprehensive environmental review that includes quality analysis of cumulative impacts. But use of the exclusions “has regularly resulted in uninformed decision-making without meaningful opportunities for public involvement — at the expense of other values and users of our public land,” they said.

They said things such as air quality and wildlife habitat have suffered as a result.

But IPAMS says use of the exclusions for projects meeting the law’s criteria isn’t discretionary.

“GAO found many examples where BLM failed to use them, but did not even attempt to systematically document those violations of the law” or look into why some field offices didn’t approve a single exclusion, it said.

It said the GAO report at times “appears to advance a political agenda” rather than provide straightforward analysis of the law’s implementation.

“Individuals may disagree with a law, but that disagreement should not advise a study on how the law is applied,” IPAMS said.

A U.S. Department of Interior official has written to the GAO that the Interior Department and the BLM plan to take “immediate steps” to ensure use of the exclusions is consistent with the law and BLM policy. BLM Washington spokespersons could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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