Oil, gas reforms finalized by BLM

The Bureau of Land Management on Monday finalized onshore oil and gas leasing reforms, which two Republican U.S. senators say they hope to block through legislation.

“We must continue to move forward quickly and responsibly on our agenda to reform the management of our nation’s onshore and offshore energy resources and our oversight of the companies that develop them,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in announcing the measures. “The BLM reforms we are finalizing (Monday) establish a more orderly, open, and environmentally sound process for developing oil and gas resources on public lands. The BP oil spill is a stark reminder of how we must continue to push ahead with the reforms we have been working on and which we know are needed.”

The reforms are designed to provide more up-front environmental review before leasing occurs, such as through public participation and, when warranted, on-site visits of proposed lease parcels. The Interior Department says that will provide more certainty for energy companies by reducing the likelihood of leases being legally challenged later. But the industry says the measures instead will result in more bureaucratic delay.

Sens. Robert Bennett of Utah and John Barrasso of Wyoming plan to introduce a bill that would block the new policies until the Interior Department analyzes their impacts on jobs and government revenues and seeks and considers public input.

Bennett said in a prepared statement Monday, “I’m surprised and disappointed that while the administration appears to be pulling back the reins on its offshore policy, they would simultaneously be pulling the plug on onshore oil and natural gas development by drowning it in new red tape.”

Conservation groups praised the leasing reforms, which include tightening the use of “categorical exclusions” that exempt oil and gas activities from more extensive environmental review. BP was granted such an exclusion at its Deepwater Horizon well, the source of the ongoing Gulf Coast spill.

“One month ago, almost nobody had heard of ‘categorical exclusions.’  But as the current Gulf disaster unfolds, the danger of granting these exceptions is clear to the entire nation — not just the people and wildlife of the Gulf,” Mike Chiropolos, lands program director for Western Resource Advocates, said in a news release.

Last week, 60 former federal and state wildlife officials, including some past Forest Service and BLM heads, signed a letter encouraging Salazar to proceed with the reforms, first proposed in January. More than 90 county commissioners and other elected officials in the West, including Mesa County’s commissioners, have signed letters asking Salazar to consider the impact of his oil and gas policies on jobs and rural economies.


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