After taking office the Obama administration took common sense steps to reverse the Bush administration’s unbalanced approach to developing oil and gas on our public lands. The administration rightly recognized that a “drill baby drill” policy posed a significant threat to wildlife, water, wild places and western values, and was leading to more and more conflict over every lease. In an effort to reduce the conflict in the leasing process and balance out resource considerations, the Department of Interior provided a number of reforms through Instruction Memoranda. Reforms from these memos require the Bureau of Land Management to do things like:
- Standardize oil and gas lease stipulations that protect wildlife and other resources by setting a baseline of protections that have to be incorporated into any drilling project
- Incorporate new adaptive management features that allow adjustments to be made as more information is gained on how drilling is impacting the natural environment
- Establish local “Master Leasing Plans” throughout the west to facilitate thorough environmental review of potential drilling impacts BEFORE offering leases in areas with high energy potential and high risk of environmental conflicts
- Get rid of policies that previously reduced the amount of environmental review required for oil and gas leasing
These reforms were an important step in streamlining and modernizing the process by fully taking into account all resources affected by leasing and by pushing leases into lower conflict areas. However, as is the case with many of the common sense policy changes initiated on our public lands, these reforms are under attack in this Congress. Despite the fact that recent reports show onshore oil and gas drilling at a twenty year high even with these reforms in place, a bill introduced in the Senate would reverse the administration’s reform agenda along with a number of other important progressive actions taken by the Obama administration to improve oil and gas leasing.
In addition to the bill, a recent letter from Republican Senators attacked the BLMs leasing reforms. In response to this letter, former head of the BLM Mike Dombeck said: “It is disappointing to see members of Congress, presumably at the request of industry, attempting to roll back such common sense policies on the land that belongs to ‘we the people.’”
A halt to the Master Leasing Plans (MLPs) currently under development, in particular, would be a huge loss. These innovative plans provide a new and powerful opportunity to avoid and minimize wildlife and other environmental conflicts that could result from poorly planned oil and gas leasing before a project is sited and investments are made. This type of “smart from the start” planning results in a win-win because it has the potential to resolve conflicts prior to the siting and development of oil and natural gas wells, thus avoiding costly controversies that always seems to end up in court. A law that gets rid the MLP process would stop this good policy in its tracks.