A sweeping Interior Department review of federal oil and gas leasing policy could lead to profound changes in how the Bureau of Land Management selects parcels for development and how drilling operations are regulated on public lands. Photo courtesy of the Interior Department.
An Interior Department report evaluating the Bureau of Land Management's handling of 77 contested oil and gas leases in Utah offers a broad blueprint for how the agency should reform its leasing program on public lands.
While many details of those reforms remain unknown, Mark Stiles, the 11-member review team's leader, previewed some of the possible changes in an interview last week. They include the possible slowing of permit decisions so that regulators can better balance domestic energy development against natural resource protection, as well as new measures to reduce BLM's reliance on industry to nominate parcels for development.
Such reforms could have helped avoid the controversy that erupted last year when the Bush administration offered leases on parcels for Utah's Nine Mile Canyon that were subsequently withdrawn in the first weeks of the Obama administration.
Environmental groups welcomed the findings, saying a correction in oil and gas leasing policy is long overdue. But industry representatives say any reforms that slow the pace of domestic oil and gas production will leave the country at risk of shortages and price spikes.