From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 10 - March 8, 2007
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Enviro groups hope Democratic Congress more sympathetic

by Julia Stuble

The halls of Congress have reverberated with calls for repeals of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), with groups looking for the Democratic-controlled legislature to view energy development in a different light than the 109th Congress did two years ago. Environmental and conservation groups from across the West joined together, and released a policy outlining their recommendations for responsible energy development. They are asking that Congress adopt it this session.

The Western Energy Agenda (WEA) was released on the heels of a resolution from the Western Governors’ Association asking Congress for several changes to EPAct. This manifesto for energy development in the West is supported by the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Upper Green River Valley Coalition.

The groups, which hope to “achieve the appropriate balance between oil and gas development and economically viable Western communities,” highlighted six areas of concern in their document.

The WEA’s first point focuses on protecting the West’s waters. The agenda asks Congress to repeal Sections 323 and 322 of EPAct. Section 322 exempts hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to bring natural gas wells into production, from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Fracturing techniques inject high pressure water, sand and toxic fluids into rock formations in order to form cracks through which the gas can flow. Many environmental groups charge that the toxic fluids are carcinogenic, though the Environmental Protection Agency claims it has not seen a link between groundwater that could be contaminated by these fluids and cancer rates in specific areas.

The agenda also calls for funds to be allocated to study the effects of coalbed methane production on water resources, which is required by Section 1811d of EPAct. The groups ask that these funds be allocated from the BLM oil and gas program in the 2008 Department of Interior Appropriations Bill.

The WEA’s next request concerns “the West’s special places”, naming Wyoming’s Red Desert along with New Mexico’s Otero Mesa, Colorado’s Roan Plateau, and Utah’s Redrock Wilderness, and asks that these areas be given protections from oil and gas development. The groups also ask for a revision of Section 368 of EPAct, which deals with energy transmissions. They request that these corridors avoid sensitive habitats, and that the application of categorical exclusions for such be eliminated.

Wildlife protections are next on the WEA, with the request that the Bureau of Land Management be required to use Best Management Practices when approving drilling permits. Management practices endorsed by the groups include the minimization of habitat fragmentation and degradation, directional drilling and well-clustering practices, as well as maximizing distances between wells.

Congress is next asked to support private land rights in the face of split estates, and to adopt legislation which requires surface use agreements between the landowner and operator, as well as the regulation of water impacts, and the clean-up of abandoned wells.

The WEA also requests amendments and repeals of Sections of the EPAct in order to “restore public participation and balance.” Noting in a release that the BLM’s “highest priority” in the last several years “has been to issue as many oil and gas leases in as short a time as possible” the agenda asks that Section 366 be amended to eliminate a 30-day permit deadline. This section requires the land management agency to process permits within 30 days, which the groups allege hampers the BLM’s ability “to thoroughly review permits and protect other resources.”

Along this line, the groups also ask that Section 390 be repealed thereby eliminating any new Categorical Exclusions from National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. The groups hope that this will allow for more public comment.

Lastly, the agenda cautions the government about oil shale development, noting that the EPAct’s schedule for oil shale commercial leasing by 2008 does not allow adequate time to understand environmental and social impacts.

Aside from environmental review, the groups also ask Congress to prohibit oil shale commercial lease sales until projects can prove that they are economically viable without taxpayer subsidies. No oil shale leases have been approved in Wyoming at this time.

The WEA concludes that the West deserves a “balanced energy policy” which will balance the nation’s need for energy with wildlife and environmental protections. The groups ask that Congress adopt the WEA, and “aggressively” pursue a clean energy agenda based on renewable energy sources, like wind and solar powers, which they promote as being as prominent in the West as non-renewables.

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