Energy hunt won’t spare Rocky vistas
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.