Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has changed the procedures the Bureau
of Land Management must follow before leasing federal land for oil and
gas drilling, sending a message that the Department of the Interior
aims to reverse some energy policies of the Bush administration.
"The previous Administration's 'anywhere, anyhow' policy on oil and
gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and
fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and
industry," Salazar said in a news release.
The BLM, which is part of the Department of the Interior, regulates oil
and gas on the 256 million acres of federal land it manages.
The reformed policy, which Salazar announced earlier today, will
require more detailed reviews before leases are issued, will allow for
more public involvement in developing master leasing and development
plans, and will shift the focus of new drilling toward areas already
being developed. The reforms also create an Energy Reform Team to
identify and implement the reforms.
In the past, BLM has used categorical exclusions to approve leases,
which allows leases to be rubber stamped based on existing
environmental analysis rather than relying on new reviews. Based on
today's announcement, BLM will no longer be allowed to use those
exclusions in cases of "extraordinary circumstances" -- meaning
drilling that could impact protected species, historic or cultural
resources, or human health and safety.
"Restoring balance to an agency that was out of whack for years is a
good move," said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural
Resources Defense Council. "It means [the BLM is] not just going to
lease a parcel because the industry wants it."
She added that while the announcement is a positive one, it remains
to be seen whether the reforms will be adequately implemented.