En­ergy hunt won’t spare Rocky vis­tas

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources / School Appointments / Engineering & Mi -

THE Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion fore­sees no let-up in the ag­gres­sive pace of oil and gas drilling in the west­ern United States, de­spite some voter back­lash from peo­ple tired of see­ing more rigs in their Rocky Moun­tain vis­tas.

‘‘ There’s no doubt that the in­ter­est in oil and gas is go­ing to con­tinue,’’ says Jim Caswell, di­rec­tor of In­te­rior De­part­ment’s Bureau of Land Man­age­ment di­rec­tor.

Pub­lic lands man­aged by Caswell’s bureau pro­duce 18 per cent of the na­tion’s nat­u­ral gas and 5 per cent of its oil. BLM man­ages 104 mil­lion hectares, about one-eighth of the land in the US. Most of that land — grass­lands, forests, high moun­tains, Arc­tic tundra and deserts — is in the vast west­ern ex­panses of the US. It also over­sees about 283 mil­lion hectares of sub­sur­face min­er­als.

Five basins in Mon­tana, Wy­oming, Utah, Colorado and New Mex­ico con­tain the na­tion’s largest on­shore re­serves of nat­u­ral gas. BLM has been ap­prov­ing about one of ev­ery four ap­pli­ca­tions it re­ceives for per­mits to drill. But states also ap­prove leases; in Mon­tana, about 120 of the 750 wells pro­duc­ing coal bed meth­ane are on fed­eral leases.

‘‘ The key is how do we de­velop that re­source in the most en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive way?’’ Caswell says. ‘‘ How can we be as com­pat­i­ble as pos­si­ble long-term? This is not some short-term thing; this is long-term. We’re talk­ing 20, 30 years.’’

The White House, em­pha­sis­ing en­ergy in­de­pen­dence from for­eign oil, has made it a top pri­or­ity for BLM to speed up the pro­cess­ing of per­mits for oil and nat­u­ral gas leas­ing. In some west­ern states, that has caused some re­sis­tance from Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s own Repub­li­can Party. Democrats have made po­lit­i­cal gains in Colorado, tak­ing the gov­er­nor­ship and sev­eral con­gres­sional seats in re­cent years, in part due to dis­en­chant­ment among the ‘‘ hook and bul­let’’ crowd of sports­men and ranch­ers, in­clud­ing many Repub­li­cans, who com­pete with en­ergy drillers for use of pub­lic lands.

Caswell says he be­lieves any voter back­lash is ‘‘ to some de­gree overblown.’’ How­ever, con­cerns for the en­vi­ron­ment un­der­score the im­por­tance of some of his top pri­or­i­ties.

Those in­clude up­dat­ing the for­mal plans the agency uses to man­age each par­tic­u­lar area that it is re­spon­si­ble for and work­ing on a $US22 mil­lion plan for pro­tect­ing sage grouse and other wildlife preva­lent in en­ergy-pro­duc­ing ar­eas of states such as Colorado, Ne­vada, New Mex­ico, Ore­gon, Utah and Wy­oming.

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