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New Rules of the Road Unveiled for WYO Oil and Gas Leasing

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January 7, 2010

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - New rules of the road have been unveiled for oil and gas leasing on Bureau of Land Management lands - reforms promoted as a way to improve certainty for the industry, better protect the great outdoors, and reduce lawsuits.

Bureau of Land Management director Bob Abbey says new policies for increased environmental review and more gathering of public input will reduce the conflict that has dominated leasing decisions over the past 10 years.

"We've instigated these policies so that the public can share with us their concerns about possible impacts on important natural resource values that might exist in these same areas prior to us offering parcels for oil and gas leasing."

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar announced the reforms, pointing out that most of the land leased in recent years is not in production, so there's a cushion to slow down the pace of leasing without affecting domestic supply.

Many of the leases issued in recent years will get a second look, according to Salazar. Nada Culver, BLM Action Center director with The Wilderness Society, says that's important, since so many of those leases were issued at the request of the oil and gas industry without any review, not even from the BLM's own experts.

"The model now is the industry says, 'We'd like to lease this,' and the BLM says, 'We'll have to go check into that.' And they actually do on-the-ground review, and the public gets to comment on an environmental analysis."

Wyoming Outdoor Council program director Bruce Pendery says the reforms should bring peace of mind to the oil and gas industry, which has faced uncertainty because of lawsuits and the push for green energy development. He says that's important to a state that relies so heavily on fossil fuel production for income.

"Jonah Field is going to continue to produce gang-busters, but there'll be a lot more care and caution taken where there's values like hunting opportunities, outdoor recreation opportunities."

Some oil and gas industry lobby groups have blamed Salazar's review of policy for a recent slowdown in production, although several economists say the lower production levels are related to a drop-off in demand because of the poor economy.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY