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BLM Working on Improving Onshore Leasing, But Protests Escalating

August 8, 2005
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) budget and the number of drilling permits processed both have increased, but the volume of protests against land development has far outstripped those gains, Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the Interior for land and minerals management, said in a speech to western producers.

Those protests are probably one of the reasons for the slight decline in lease sales despite the high demand and high prices. Pre-lease protests have increased 664% since the Bush administration took office. Post-lease appeals have jumped 253%.

It appears, however, that the agency's resource management plan for the Roan Plateau in Colorado tops the charts for public response to a BLM program. To date there have been 74,000 comments filed so far. Watson said the agency is taking another look at the development plan for this area, one of the most energy rich areas with "an astounding" 9 Tcf of recoverable resources. BLM is working to gain state and local support for a new draft that "is being finalized right now," which allows continued development of the lower reaches of the Plateau area, but delays and limits exploration activity above the cliffs (see NGI April 25).

Processing of applications for permits to drill (APD) has increased more than 74% over the last four years, with 17,000 APDs issued. Watson said the Interior Department, meanwhile, has been heavily involved in dialogue with producers and environmental and local groups in development of a "cooperative conservation" approach. BLM's responsibility is to consider and mediate among all the possible uses of federal lands.

Responding to an attendee's comments made the previous day that resource management plans currently being updated are the most restricted plans ever written, Watson said the West has changed since the more or less open plans were written several decades ago.

"The demographics of the West have changed dramatically. The West is the fastest growing area in the United States, it also is the most urbanized." She said 22 million people live within 25 miles of BLM land. "BLM lands are their playgrounds, their open space and in some cases, literally their back yards."

She also responded to complaints about the time it takes to process APD plans, noting that far too much time must be devoted to dealing with deficiencies in initial applications. BLM also is having the same problem currently plaguing the industry, that of finding enough qualified people to do the job.

Watson singled out producers, BP, Fidelity, Shell and Encana for their cooperation in partnering with wildlife organizations and community groups and being "good neighbors." The industry needs to work on getting its story out to the public. "The public does not know, for instance, the industry has spent $9 billion per year over the last decade to address environmental concerns. In fact, many Americans do not even know where their energy comes from."

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