Sec. Salazar strikes back at oil-industry tactics, prods firms to use resources

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar struck back at oil-and-gas industry trade groups on Tuesday for claiming that the Obama administration has stymied new drilling.

“We believe that our oil-and-gas leasing program is robust, but it is also a program that we have brought back into balance,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “You would not know that if you listened to some of the untruths coming out of some corners of the oil-and-gas industry.”

He went on to say that trade groups’ tactics mirror the “deception of election-year politics” and insinuated that some groups are behaving like an arm of the Republican Party.

Salazar, who was announcing next year’s schedule for onshore lease sales, did not name which trade groups he was referring to. He also drew a distinction between the trade groups and individual companies, saying that most are responsible.

Groups including the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States have attacked several Interior Department decisions, such as deferral and withdrawal of some leases in Utah and extending review of Bush-era draft plans to expand offshore drilling.

The Interior Department plans on having 38 onshore lease sales next year. Salazar says the policy promotes conventional resources while revving up environmental safeguards and the deployment of renewable energy.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has held 32 lease sales this year, offering more than 2.7 million acres in Western states, and four more have already been scheduled so far, according to internal records. BLM governs onshore federal lands leasing, while a separate Interior branch — the Minerals Management Service — handles offshore development.

Salazar, in a nod to industry concerns, also said the Interior Department is reviewing the leasing program to help cut down on the number of leases that are subject to administrative and legal challenges. “I believe it is important for the oil-and-gas industry to have certainty,” he said.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said that in 2008, almost 42 percent of the onshore leases were contested, and added that percentage is even higher thus far in 2009.

Salazar also said the industry, which is seeking wider offerings of federal lands and waters, is often leaving tracts that have already been leased undeveloped.