WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. House are considering again a suite of bills that would accelerate oil and gas leasing and drilling on public lands at the expense of fish, wildlife and other natural resources. The bills also would undermine common-sense leasing reforms intended to facilitate responsible energy development on public lands and minimize controversy, Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development said.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources is holding a hearing Wednesday to consider several bills that would make energy development a priority on public lands and make it more difficult, if not impossible, for the public to participate in the process.
One measure, H.R. 1965, would hamper citizens’ participation in public lands management by charging $5,000 to protest a lease, drilling permit or right of way. The legislation would mandate commercial oil shale leasing even though no commercially and environmentally sound technology exists to produce a usable fuel from the shale.
The bills, similar to ones that failed last year, also would roll back reforms announced by the Department of the Interior in 2010 that, if fully implemented, would better engage the public and reduce controversy over leasing and permitting. Pre-leasing analysis by the Bureau of Land Management has helped cut the number of protests by addressing potential conflicts upfront.
“Some members of Congress continue to grasp for solutions to problems that don’t exist while giving little thought to running roughshod over our public lands – lands treasured by hunters, anglers and Americans across the country,” said Ed Arnett, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Responsible Energy Development.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month, leaders of the SFRED coalition emphasized the need to follow through on leasing reforms to sustain fish and wildlife and the hunting, fishing and recreation so important to the nation’s economy. Chief among the measures sportsmen are eager to see realized is the master leasing plan concept, a key tool for federal land managers in places where mineral resources and valuable fish and wildlife resources overlap.
The SFRED coalition referenced a 2012 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that U.S. oil production was at its highest point since 1992, thanks largely to new technology and techniques that have made more oil and gas reserves accessible.
Federal statistics show that in fiscal 2012, the Bureau of Land Management issued about 1,700 oil and gas leases on 1.75 million acres.
``And yet thousands of leases on millions of acres sit idle. It doesn’t make sense for our public agencies to go full speed ahead issuing new leases and drilling permits just to meet arbitrary mandates if existing leases and permits are collecting dust,’’ said Kate Zimmerman, public lands policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.
Only about one third – 12.5 million acres – of the nearly 38 million acres already leased are currently in production.
``Our coalition doesn’t oppose responsible energy development on public lands, but these bills aren’t in the public’s best interest or in the best interest of the habitat that sustains our fish and wildlife resources,’’ said Bob Meulengracht, Colorado Energy Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. ``Sportsmen and -women saw what happened in the past when corners were cut to get drilling permits out the door faster. Mule deer and sage grouse numbers dropped, air quality diminished, and important fish and wildlife habitat was threatened.’’
The outdoor recreation industry, including hunting and fishing, generates nearly $650 billion per year for the U.S. economy and provides more than 6 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Public lands are critical to the businesses that contribute to this sustainable part of the economy.
``Our public lands are a public trust. They are intended to support a wide range of uses and must be managed responsibly so future generations can enjoy and benefit from them as we have,’’ Zimmerman said.Article Permalink | Read More News Articles