BLM takes step to improve access to federal land

Bob Tippee

The Bureau of Land Management has taken an important step toward debottlenecking US energy supply.

The agency, which manages 261 million acres onshore, has issued policies to streamline leasing and encourage oil and gas development.

It's trying to align land use with findings of a resource inventory conducted at the direction of Congress by the Department of the Interior, of which it's part.

The study, reported last January, assessed 59.4 million acres of federal land in the Paradox-San Juan, Uinta-Piceance, Greater Green River, and Powder River basins and Montana Thrust Belt.

It estimated the "technically recoverable" resource of the acreage at 3.9 billion bbl of oil and gas liquids and 138.5 tcf of natural gas.

Within those totals, resources estimated at 1.7 billion bbl of oil and 51.9 tcf of gas are either available for lease under greater than standard restrictions¿ranging from controlled surface use to no surface occupancy¿or not available for lease at all.

In an announcement of the new policies, BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said the inventory findings would help field managers "make informed decisions" about exploration and development.

"Our overall objective is to ensure the timely development of these critical energy resources in an environmentally sound manner," she said.

According to a press statement, BLM state and field offices by next Dec. 31 are to "determine the need for changing existing land-use plans to facilitate oil and gas exploration and development."

The directive alone won't resolve all problems of access to federal land onshore. It will meet internal resistance. It will face lawsuits and political opposition from environmental groups. It can't do anything about immediate challenges of gas supply. It can, however, help keep acute gas-supply pressures from becoming chronic.

The US has for too long denied itself hydrocarbons that it needs and that can be developed at minimal environmental risk. Change in federal land management is overdue.

The oil and gas industry and all industries concerned about supplies of energy, especially natural gas, should support BLM's new policy.

And they should encourage the government to apply similar wisdom offshore.

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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