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Interior Misses Mark on BLM Reform, Says Wyoming Governor

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal fired off a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar slamming the department's ambitious reform of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) oil and natural gas leasing program (see NGI, Jan. 11). With the proposed changes, the governor said Interior was perpetuating the unbalanced policies in Washington, DC -- this time giving environmentalists the upper hand over oil and natural gas development.

"I appreciate your stated intentions to restore balance to the leasing program. Unfortunately the proposed changes potentially hand significant control over oil and gas exploration, development and production to the whims of those that profess a 'nowhere, not ever' philosophy to surface disturbance of any kind," Freudenthal wrote Salazar on Jan. 8.

"I have always been a strong proponent of balance" but "Washington...seems to go from pillar to post to placate what is perceived as a key constituency. I only half-heartedly joke with those in industry that, during the prior administration, their names were chiseled above the chairs outside the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals. With the changes announced [by Interior earlier this month] I fear that we are merely swapping the names above those same chairs [with] environmental interests, giving them a stranglehold on an already cumbersome process," Freudenthal said.

"Some would say that the oil and gas industry is getting what it deserves. But this is much too serious an issue for such pettiness...It involves an industry that has seen the application for permit to drill fee jump to $6,500 and the exemption for intangible drilling costs threatened. It involves environmental interests that demand renewable energy, but neglect the reality that natural gas will provide the backup power that will allow renewables to be viable.

"And while I think that the proposed [Interior] policy has missed the mark, I am more than willing to put my shoulder to the wheel to help recraft it into a more function and rational program."

"My hope would be for the department to focus its energy and attention on compliance, monitoring, inspections and implementation -- rather than on a prematurely constraining leasing program that will functionally tie a millstone around the neck of the department and detract from the more pressing issues of the day."

Many of the new BLM reforms will follow recommendations issued last year by an interdisciplinary review team that studied, among other things, the controversial 2008 BLM lease sale in Utah (see NGI, Oct. 12, 2009).

Under the reformed gas and oil drilling policy, BLM would provide:

Quarterly lease sales for BLM-managed lands still would be conducted by the state offices, but processing times would be extended to accommodate the review of lease sale parcels, BLM Director Bob Abbey told reporters.

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