Saturday, November 21, 2009

Energy Obstructionists

The Associated Press notes a sudden reluctance on the part of energy companies to bid on federal oil and gas leases in the state Utah. But is it really surprising? Virtually every major auction offered in the Rocky Mountain West is fiercely contested by anti-drilling extremists. The knee-jerk obstructionism is simply wearing energy providers down. And given the obvious sway the extremists hold with this administration, and with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (an obstructionists himself while in the Senate), it's little wonder that the Rocky Mountain energy boom went bust.

Macroeconomic forces have played a part in this, no question. But green extremism is also a significant factor, as these two news reports -- link and link -- make clear. Especially frustrating was the dishonest way that Salazar and the Obama administration unilaterally nullified dozens of legitimate energy leases in Utah shortly after coming to power. A number of those voided leases have been reinstated, thanks to the scrutiny of Utah's congressional delegation. But watching the administration attempt to justify that abuse of power proves to me that the Obamatons (much like the Clintonistas) are absolutely devoid of any principle, save for political expediency and interest group loyalty. And I'm glad to see folks aren't just laying down for it.

From Thursday Deseret News:

Utah oil and gas leases should be reinstated, report says
Analysis is latest in ongoing fight over 2008 land auction

A new analysis by an association representing oil and gas producers asserts the Department of the Interior thwarted the public process and "second-guessed" its own land managers when it yanked bids on oil and gas parcels sold at a controversial auction in Salt Lake City last December.

Despite "aggressive" environmental protections included in the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Management Plans, the Interior Department recommended eight leases for removal and 52 leases for deferral, disregarding scientific evidence and input from Utah stakeholders, according to the association.

"It's a sad day when politics trumps the expertise of professional land managers and the hard work of citizens to develop economic and resource-development plans that the community has embraced," said Kathleen Sgamma, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States spokeswoman. "If you're not listening to your land managers and the public, who are you listening to?"

The report, released Thursday, is the latest in a series of volleys fired back and forth among environmentalists, the oil and gas industry and the Interior Department on the heels of the auction that was marred by protests and the arrest of activist Timothy DeChristopher.

Two months after the auction, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pulled all 77 leases, saying they had been put on the table after a rushed "midnight" decision in the waning hours of the Bush administration. He later sent a hand-picked team led by Forest Supervisor Mike Stiles to Utah to conduct a review of the appropriateness of the leases offered at auction.
As a result of that review, Salazar removed eight parcels from consideration and put 52 more under additional review.

The petroleum association's 66-page analysis of Stiles' report found "no evidence" to support the resulting Interior Department decision and said Salazar showed a "lack of regard" for the seven-year public planning process that produced the Resource Management Plans.

Specific information for each parcel, location details, wilderness status and lease stipulations contained in the management plans are contained in the report, as well as a summary of why the association believes the parcel is appropriate for leasing.

One of the parcels, for example, was described as 160 acres with a western boundary located 4.5 miles from Canyonlands National Park, with existing state and federal leases between it and the park. The environmental protections mandated in the lease stipulation include air quality, paleontological resources and mitigation of impacts to endangered or threatened species such as the Mexican spotted owl.

"Based on this analysis, (the petroleum association) believes the 60 leases were legitimately sold at the December 2008 sale and should be reinstated to the winning bidders," the report said.

And here's a report from the AP earlier in the week:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A trade group says it's getting so hard to obtain an oil-and-gas lease in the Rocky Mountains that many drillers and land agents aren't even trying to buy one.
The criticism came after the government held an auction of public lands in Utah that was remarkable for how few parcels were offered or sold.

The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States says drillers are scared that the administration of President Barack Obama will hold up a lease after it sells one, so they aren't bothering with the auctions.

The industry group also complains the new administration is doing little to clear a $100 million backlog of leases that were sold years ago but are being stifled by legal or bureaucratic review.

The energy crisis of a few years has abated for now, due to the global economic downturn. But it will return, and persist, in the years ahead. Spiking prices and short supplies will have Americans crying out for relief (remember the chants of "drill, baby, drill" that were heard not so long ago?) and wondering who's to blame. But energy obstructionists always can count on the amnesia of average Americans to shield them from blame when the uproar commences.

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