WASHINGTON - April 15 - With the oil and gas industry clamoring for the Bureau of Land Management to speed up the processing and issuance of drilling permits, The Wilderness Society today revealed that more than 6,000 drilling permits have not been used over the past decade.
"No one is saying we shouldn't be drilling out west, but this surplus raises the question of why there's a rush to open some very sensitive areas to drilling, including areas that have been proposed for wilderness protection," said Dr. Michelle Haefele, an economist with The Wilderness Society..
In February the BLM sold leases adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument and the agency has announced plans to sell leases in proposed wilderness areas in Colorado in May and in Utah in June. These sales follow on previous sales in Colorado and Utah in which the BLM also sold leases on lands identified by the agency as having wilderness values.
"This is not an economic analysis that's taking place in a vacuum," said Haefele. "We're witnessing the very real possibility of losing some of the West's last remaining unspoiled areas."
Haefele and Dr. Pete Morton co-authored The Wilderness Society report entitled "Drilling in the Rockies? Not so Fast!" Their research found that as much as 60 percent of the leases currently held by the oil and gas industry are not in production. That amounts to 23 million acres throughout the Rocky Mountain West, and 31 million acres nationally, that are leased but not being used.
For the study, Morton and Haefele interviewed BLM staff and based their findings on "the best available data from the BLM," including the Annual Public Lands Statistics Reports, "Public Rewards From Public Lands," data from the Automated Fluid Minerals Support System and "Oil & Gas Leasing Statistics" from March 4, 2004.
As for drilling permits, the BLM reports that more than 1,000 permits have gone unused in Wyoming's Powder River Basin alone during the past year.
"The fact that industry has sat on 1,000 or more permits that have been issued in the Powder River Basin proves there is no legitimate reason to rush forward permitting," said Jill Morrison of the Powder River Basin Resource Council. "It also proves that industry complaints that development is being delayed by tactics' from conservation groups is a big fabrication."
Summary of the report (PDF)