For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 

Elise Jones, CO Environmental Coalition, 303-885-4273
Erik Molvar, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, 307-460-8300
Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981

Conservationists Applaud Proposed Oil & Gas Reforms
Call for Strong Implementation to Achieve Needed Balance

Denver, CO – Today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a series of reforms to the federal oil and gas leasing program designed to provide greater environmental oversight over oil and gas lease offerings, more public involvement, increased certainty for industry, and better return to American taxpayers for energy development on federal lands. 

“The Interior Department’s announcement today is a critical step forward in beginning to restore some much-needed balance to our federal energy program,” said Elise Jones, Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “These common sense reforms will allow for continued energy production while simultaneously protecting the clean air, pure water, treasured landscapes and abundant wildlife that are the backbone of economic prosperity in the West.” 

Under the Bush Administration, oil and gas drilling was elevated above all other uses on federal public lands, resulting in a dramatic acceleration in energy development. This energy boom has caused significant impacts to the environment and communities, including air and water pollution, toxic spills, declines in wildlife populations and public health concerns.

"Utah's remarkable redrock wilderness suffered greatly under the prior administration's policies that the Secretary now proposes to change," said Steve Bloch, Conservation Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  "The wilderness resources in places like the White River, Upper Desolation Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon were targeted for leasing and development and endured the over-use of categorical exclusions and inadequate public input.  Secretary Salazar's proposed reforms, when fully implemented, will bring common sense back to public land management."

Conservation groups were particularly pleased with proposed changes to the flawed categorical exclusion process, which the General Accounting Office recently found enabled oil and gas companies to bypass important environmental protections. Lauded reforms also include conducting interdisciplinary reviews, ensuring site-specific consideration of environmental values, requiring development of “Master Leasing and Development Plans” for areas anticipated to see intensive new oil and gas extraction activities, applying greater analysis of where leasing will occur, and enhancing public involvement at all levels.

"After a decade when the fate of our public lands was left in the hands of the oil industry, it's refreshing to hear that the BLM is going to take charge of oil and gas management and will start factoring in the protection of treasured landscapes, sensitive wildlife habitats, and municipal watersheds into management decisions," added Erik Molvar, Wildlife Biologist with Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, Wyoming. "If the Interior Department succeeds in striking a balance between protecting sensitive lands and developing oil and gas, it opens a door to a new day when conservation groups can spend less effort trying to clean up problem projects and could allow the American people to engage as partners in creating a responsible energy future."

While conservationists welcomed today’s announcement, they also note that some of the proposals lacked detail, and that strong implementation will be essential to ensuring a shift in priorities from drilling above all to a more balanced management ethic.



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