Colorado News Connection

July 7, 2017Available files: mp3 wav jpg

Groups Call Zinke's Drilling Expansion a 'Giveaway'

Eric Galatas

DENVER - U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order yesterday opening up more public lands for drilling and mining in an effort he says is needed to tackle permitting backlogs and delays.

Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, warns the measure could result in less access to federal lands for other uses, including outdoor recreation. Saeger believes the move is more of a favor to oil and gas companies.

"There are actually not that many impediments to drilling for oil on public land in this country," he says. "What they're doing through this process is trying to create even more giveaways for the special interests that brought them to power."

The order is part of the Trump administration's push for "energy dominance," which includes goals of exporting domestic fossil fuels globally. Conservation groups are concerned the policy could lead to more drilling rigs next to national parks, inside wildlife refuges and outdoor recreation areas.

The Bureau of Land Management is supposed to process drilling applications within 30 days, but according to a recent DOI review, the average wait has been over 250 days.

Saeger says industry claims of oppressive rules and diminished access to federal lands are overstated. And, since companies aren't using millions of acres they already have under lease, he says there's no reason to hand over even more.

"Most people in most walks of life kind of adhere to the principle of 'use it or lose it,'" he adds. "But oil and gas companies seem to be allowed to hoard and hoard and hoard - all of these permits, all of these leases, without using them - and they can get away with it."

Saeger points to BLM data that shows with historically low gas prices, companies voluntarily passed on over 22 million acres of oil and gas leases offered for sale between 2009 and 2016.

He adds almost 7,000 fewer drilling permits were requested between 2013 and 2015 than between 2007 and 2009.