Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wyoming governor wants to slow down fast-track process for oil and gas drilling on federal land

"Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal is once again calling on federal lawmakers to rework a rule that lets agencies bypass painstaking environmental studies in order to fast-track oil and gas drilling," writes Chris Merrill of the Casper Star-Tribune. The concern has to do with the notion of categorical exclusion, which "allows land managers to skip in-depth environmental reviews for individual oil and gas drilling projects in areas where three wells have already been drilled, and where a previous environmental analysis was conducted within the past five years," adds Merrill.

The impetus for "categorical exclusion" dates to 2005, when the Bush Administration was pushing to increase domestic energy production. It was seen as a way to remove redundant hurdles from the process handled by the Bureau of Land Management. The Democratic governor questions the rule "because it fails to account for the cumulative impacts of hundreds of categorically excluded rigs," Merrill writes.

Freudenthal does not seem to include areas where a drilling plan has been put in place, such as the Pinedale Anticline. New drilling under categorical exclusions could exacerbate environmental problems. "The region has already experienced unhealthy and potentially poisonous levels of ozone pollution in recent winters," writes Merrill. "These kinds of categorical exclusions could potentially work to undo much of the emissions reductions and wildlife protections that will be achieved by Ultra, Shell and Questar on the Pinedale Anticline in the coming years."

Auditors from the Government Accountability Office are expected in Wyoming by the end of the month to review how the BLM has implemented categorical exclusions in Wyoming. Conservation groups hope the presence of the GAO signifies that Congress has concerns about the issue. (Read more)

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