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Experts: Time is Right to Review BLM Oil and Gas Leasing

December 22, 2009

HELENA, Mont. - U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's announcement that oil and gas leasing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands is getting a "comprehensive review" has left Montana sporting groups, conservationists, and the oil and gas industry wondering what will happen next.

Ann Morgan is a former Western BLM state director who is now vice-president with The Wilderness Society Public Lands Campaign. She thinks a review is a good idea because, she says, in recent years the BLM has relied heavily on the oil and gas industry to recommend which areas should be developed. She cites that as one example of how the leasing program has lost sight of its responsibility to manage land for all values.

"The BLM, who are the stewards of these resources for the American people, not the oil and gas industry, should decide where, when and how the oil and gas resource should be developed."

Morgan says sportsmen and recreation groups want to see a slower pace of energy development, and more accountability for leaseholders to protect water, wildlife and public access.

Resource economist Thomas Power at the University of Montana says the recession turns out to be a good time for this review, when oil and gas production has been scaled back because of reduced demand.

"As a result, there's been less enthusiasm among companies for leasing more federal lands for oil and gas development, and vast amounts of existing federal oil and gas leases have gone undeveloped."

Some oil and gas industry trade groups take issue with the proposed review, saying it could lead to layoffs and less production.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT