Interior rolls back oil drilling policies for federal land

Interior rolls back oil drilling policies for federal land
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The Interior Department implemented a new policy Thursday aimed at streamlining the oil and natural gas drilling process on federal land by cutting back on the opportunities for drilling opponents to slow down the process.

A memo signed Wednesday and released Thursday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) states that it is the agency’s policy to “simplify and streamline the leasing process to alleviate unnecessary impediments and burdens, to expedite the offering of lands for lease,” and to ensure drilling rights sales happen regularly.

The changes include setting a 60-day deadline for processing proposed lease sales, leaving public participation in certain reviews up to low-level officials, limiting protest periods for sales to 10 days and repealing an Obama administration policy that let other land users, like hunters and anglers, object.

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The memo is part of a wide-ranging plan at Interior and elsewhere to tear down barriers to domestic production of oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Conservationists slammed the policy change, calling it a threat to the environment and to other users of federal land.

“Not only is the administration rolling back safeguards for fish and wildlife and other natural resources, it’s also making it harder for Americans to weigh in on decisions about their own public lands by decreasing opportunities for input,” Tracy Stone-Manning, the National Wildlife Federation’s associate vice president for federal lands, said in a statement.

“The headlong rush to prioritize energy development above all other uses is nothing but a giveaway to the oil and gas industry. It’s bad for wildlife, bad for public lands and bad for future generations,” she said.

“We’re now returning to the dark days where our government gives oil companies carte blanche to drill next to national parks, around wildlife refuges, and next to neighborhoods,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities.

BLM released the memo the same day it announced that the agency’s lease sales brought in nearly $360 million to the federal government last year.

“Oil and gas lease sales on public land directly support domestic energy production and the president's energy dominance and job growth priorities for America,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said. “2017 was a big year for oil and gas leasing on federal lands, and these sales provide critical revenue and job growth in rural America.”