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Dispute over a report on federal land development
Salt Lake Tribune


November 30, 2006
Thursday PM

WASHINGTON -- About 3 percent of oil deposits and 13 percent of natural gas pockets on 99 million acres of federal land can be developed without restrictions, according to a new federal inventory.

The oil and gas industry, which is seeking more access to public lands, embraced the assessment released Tuesday, while environmental groups accused the Bureau of Land Management of disregarding science and economics in favor of politics.



BLM Director Kathleen Clarke defended the inventory.

"We're not attempting to color this data. It is a study that is scientific. It is unbiased," said Clarke. "It gives us a complete and accurate picture of what the realities are there for development."

Congress directed the bureau to conduct the study after a 2003 report showed that most federal land in the Rocky Mountains was available for development.

The new report expanded its assessment to cover about 76 percent of the nation's onshore oil and gas reserves on federal land.

The bureau found that 47 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are entirely off-limits, while 114 trillion cubic feet can be developed with some limitations. More than 25 trillion cubic feet can be developed without restrictions.

The report said 10.5 billion barrels of oil could not be tapped, most of it in Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area the Bush administration has been trying for years to open to drilling. About 9.8 billion barrels are subject to varying degrees of restrictions.

The United States consumes 7.6 billion barrels of oil and 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.

The oil and gas that can't be leased includes resources buried beneath 5.6 million acres of national parks and other forests and wilderness areas that were included in the study - areas in which Clarke said there is no intention to drill. It also includes lands put off limits by Congress or the president and parcels where environmental studies are incomplete.

"The study appears to confirm what we've been hearing from ... the people who do the work out on the ground in the Mountain West, that in a time of need, energy resources of national importance underlying public lands, multiple-use lands, are closed off by an assortment of restrictions," said Richard Ranger, an exploration manager with the American Petroleum Institute. He said the industry likely will use the report to bolster its case for more access to federal land.

Peter Morton, a Wilderness Society economist, said the figures were doctored to meet Bush administration's goals.

"When you have a predetermined agenda to drill more oil and gas wells, they developed a methodology to make sure they reached that conclusion," he said. "From my perspective it has zero credibility.


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