Salazar to reform onshore oil and gas drilling
By Juliet Eilperin
The Interior Department announced Monday it is revamping the way it awards onshore oil and gas drilling permits, a move that will tighten environmental and safety requirements for such operations.
"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," Salazar said in a statement. "The BLM reforms we are finalizing today 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."
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in January he was examining the procedures for how the department oversees oil and gas drilling on land; now, in the wake of the April 20 offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, he has accelerated the timetable for the overhaul.
The new policy will dramatically rein in the use of categorical exclusionsm the waivers that Bureau of Land Management officials gave to energy companies so they did not have to conduct a detailed environmental analysis of their drilling projects. These analyses are required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The overhaul is outlined in a instruction memoranda to BLM, and while it will not eliminate categorical exclusions altogether, it will raise the threshold for such waivers.
"We are pleased with the BLM oil and gas leasing reforms announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey today," said David Alberswerth, senior policy adviser for the Wilderness Society. "For too long oil and gas development has prevailed over the BLM's responsibility to protect environmental, fish and wildlife, and cultural values on our public lands. Today's announcement will hopefully open a new and better chapter in how our natural heritage lands are managed."
Salazar said the plan would do the following things:
· Engage the public in the development of Master Leasing Plans (MLP) prior to leasing in certain areas where significant new oil and gas development is anticipated. The intent is to fully consider other important natural resource values before making a decision on leasing and development in an area.
● Ensure potential lease sales are fully coordinated both internally and externally, including public participation, and interdisciplinary review of available information, as well as on-
site visits to parcels prior to leasing when necessary to supplement or validate existing data.
· Require an "extraordinary circumstances" review screen before applying the categorical exclusions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to oil and gas drilling activities on BLM lands. Categorical exclusions are categories of actions that do not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment, and for which the BLM is generally not required to prepare extensive environmental reviews. A review for extraordinary circumstances has been required for all administratively-established categorical exclusions, and will now apply to oil and gas categorical exclusions established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as well.
In February 2009 Salazar started reviewing 77 Utah drilling leases the Bush administration had approved, which had sparked considerable controversy.
In October 2009 an interdisciplinary team reported back to Salazar after examining the controversial Utah lease parcels and issued a set of recommendations on how to avoid leasing lands that are not suitable to drilling.
Juliet Eilperin| May 17, 2010; 12:06 PM ET Save & Share:
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