Report: Sharp increase in oil, gas drilling projected across West |

Report: Sharp increase in oil, gas drilling projected across West

Associated Press Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) ” Oil and gas drilling on federal lands across the Rocky Mountain West could increase by more than 160 percent over the next two decades due in part to pro-industry regulations enacted by the Bush administration, according to a report released Monday by an environmental group.

The Washington, D.C.-based Wilderness Society analyzed drilling plans and said oil and gas exploration was poised to push into some of the West’s most environmentally sensitive areas. That includes plans to drill in Colorado’s Roan Plateau, the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming and Montana’s portion of the Powder River Basin.

“The impacts of this type of development would be truly staggering. It would likely well exceed 1 million acres,” said the Wilderness Society’s Nada Culver, who authored the report. “This is the time to take a step back and consider what current levels of drilling are already doing to our public and private lands.”

At least one federal official questioned the accuracy of the report, arguing it appeared to be based partially on plans that are not yet final.

The report comes amid a bitter debate in Washington over the national security benefits of domestic drilling versus its potential effects on water, air quality and wildlife. Congress is considering legislation that would reverse portions of the administration’s 2005 Energy Policy Act to tighten oversight of drilling.

Backers of the legislation, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, contend reforms are needed to ensure adequate environmental protection wherever drilling occurs. Industry representatives counter that the proposed changes would hamper future development and undermine attempts to wean the country off foreign fuels.

“The fact that energy companies are working with the federal government to ensure our nation has an adequate supply of energy for years to come ” that seems like a good thing,” said Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States.

Smith said the Rockies now produce about 25 percent of the country’s natural gas and 9 percent of its oil.

That figure has risen steadily under the Bush Administration, which has exempted some drilling proposals from environmental reviews and told federal regulators to speed up the approval process for new permits.

More than 126,000 new oil and gas wells have been approved or are under review for federal lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Utah and New Mexico, according to the Wilderness Society report. Wyoming would see the most activity: 58,000 new wells.

By comparison, the five states had 77,000 wells producing oil or natural gas as of earlier this year.

Plans to sharply increase that number have not gone unchallenged. In Colorado, for example, a proposal to drill up to 1,570 new wells over 20 years on the Roan Plateau west of Denver has drawn opposition from hunting and fishing groups, environmentalists and members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Monday’s report analyzed drilling plans under consideration or already approved by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. Wells proposed for private or state lands were not considered.

A similar analysis in 2006 found 118,730 wells were planned. The increase in this year’s figure was due largely to new drilling proposals in Wyoming and Colorado.

BLM spokeswoman Michelle Barret said the numbers used in the report appeared to be “at the high end of what is even possible.”

Many of the drilling projections cited, she added, included figures from long-range “scoping” documents or other planning documents that are not final.

“It’s clear they’re trying to imply all of these wells are all going to be approved and drilled. I’m confident that’s not going to happen,” Barret said.

The Pelosi-sponsored energy bill was approved by the House in August on a 241-172 vote. Most of the reforms it called for were not included in a Senate energy bill passed in June.

That means the two chambers will have to work out compromise legislation sometime this fall.

With some Democrats opposed to the House version, the Wilderness Society’s Dave Alberswerth said his group must enlist Republican support for the changes to prevail. “There simply aren’t enough Democrats who are sympathetic to our perspective to put it over the top,” he said.

Smith described as slim the chance that the Senate would accept the House changes to the 2005 energy act. Two years after passing the act, Smith said he doubted many senators would want to roll back many of its provisions.

On the Net: ate2007.pdf


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