Bruce Babbitt: Wyoming BLM should end era of non-regulationGuest Column by Bruce Babbitt
— November 26, 2013
For years the Wyoming state office of the Bureau of Land Management has had a national reputation as a captive of the oil and gas industry. The BLM has left the industry free to build roads and locate wells, destroying and disrupting wildlife habitat as it pleases, in the process creating landscapes known as “sacrifice zones.” The Jonah Field in the Green River Basin is an emblem of this “hands off” regulatory style.
This tradition of non-regulation may be about to change as the BLM finally awakens to environmental concerns, including sage grouse conservation. A proposal by BP America to drill an additional 8,950 wells in the area between Rock Springs and Rawlins could be the turning point. The pending decision document for the project includes two proposals that could, if implemented, put the BLM on a course to meaningful industry regulation.
The first is a proposal to reduce impacts by mandating use of directional drilling of multiple wells from each well pad. Technical advances within the industry allow multiple wells reaching outward for as much as two miles from each well site. A modest requirement of four wells per pad could reduce the number of wells from 8,950 to less than 2,500, greatly reducing destruction of wildlife habitat essential for mule deer, pronghorn and sage grouse.
The Environmental Impact Statement for the project also proposes other measures to avoid disturbing sage grouse habitat. However, the BLM seems unwilling to implement Governor Matt Mead’s Wyoming habitat plan for managing oil and gas activity to protect core sagebrush areas. Why the BLM hesitates to forthrightly adopt the Wyoming state standard is a puzzle, all the more so in light of the recent speech by Interior Secretary Jewell. In her remarks, the Secretary said, “President Obama believes that we have a moral obligation to the next generation to leave our land, water and wildlife better than we found it.” And she specifically noted that Interior agencies, including the BLM, “must ensure that projects minimize impacts. …”
The BLM decision on the BP America proposal is due in early 2014. We will then learn whether BLM is still captive to the past or ready to begin listening to Secretary Jewell.Bruce Babbitt served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the President Bill Clinton administration, and is former governor of Arizona. He is president of Raintree Ventures.
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