The Senate of the new 111th Congress last Thursday sent a loud and clear message to producers of traditional fuels as it unanimously passed a $10-12 billion omnibus lands package that will take off the table millions of acres of public lands for potential oil and gas development.
The bill (S. 22) easily cleared the Senate by 73-21 and is now headed to the House. The package of more than 160 land bills was introduced last year, but the hot-button measure was punted to the new Congress after being blocked in the lame-duck session (see NGI, Nov. 24, 2008).
The passage of the omnibus lands package was a major setback for domestic oil and gas producers. "Enacting federal land policy that will further limit America's oil and natural gas producers' access to these resources will only diminish the state of the economy and result in lost jobs, lost revenues and increase America's dependence on foreign oil imports," said Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents independent oil and gas producers.
"The multiple-use of federal lands is the backbone of federal land management in the West, and the areas identified in S. 22 are already effectively protected. Congress should find ways to encourage, not discourage, the production of America's resources."
Capitol Hill lawmakers "cannot afford to be short sighted when making decisions about the future of our energy security and economy. [It] needs to put forth thoughtful legislation that puts the nation on a path that will get the economy back on track. Unfortunately, by ratifying S. 22, the Senate just took a step backward," Russell said.
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), was lauded by environmental, wildlife and conservation groups. "These measures include many important provisions for America's public lands and waters, which provide crucial habitat for game birds, deer and elk and provide healthy watersheds and streams," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), a staunch critic of the bill, tried to block it. He was particularly critical of one provision in the 3,000-plus page bill that would bar access to a large natural gas field in Wyoming. He was referring to the Wyoming Range, which has been steeped in controversy about whether producers should be allowed to drill for gas in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (see NGI, Feb. 12, 2008).
"In this bill we are putting a patch over our eye and limiting our ability in the future to increase our energy independence by taking millions of acres of land and forever closing them to any source of energy, no matter what any new technology might be, no matter if we could do it totally without any environmental impact," Coburn said.
According to Bingaman, the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act would result in the addition of more than two million new acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System. It would establish three new units of the National Park System and enlarge more than a dozen existing areas, create a new National Monument and three new National Conservation Areas, and codify the Save America's Treasures and Preserve America historic preservation programs.
In addition, it will designate more than 1,000 miles of new additions to the National Wild and Scenic River system, would help protect 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range, and would add four new trails to the National Trails System for a combined addition of more than 2,800 miles of new trails.
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