Utah Wilderness News, April 1, 2010

No more slick permits: The return of clarity and transparency to drilling policy

Thanks to a successful
partnership of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society
and The Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, it was announced yesterday that oil
companies will no longer be able to skip needed environmental assessments in
sensitive areas, cinching up a Bush-era loophole that allowed the messy rubber-stamping
of drilling permits. Yesterday’s settlement with the Bureau of Land Management
means “categorical exclusions,” which allowed new drilling to be approved without
first conducting a thorough environmental analysis, will no longer be allowed
in cases where there are cultural resources, wetlands, wilderness and other
highly sensitive factors.

This fight started in Nine Mile Canyon in Utah,
where more than 10,000 archeological sites were being destroyed by drilling
dust and chemicals, but the victory will protect natural resources nationwide,
ensuring that oil companies and the BLM do their homework before breaking
ground and that the public knows what the impacts will be.

This is something to
celebrate, and SUWA, along with our partners in the settlement at The
Wilderness Society and The Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, is pleased the oil and
gas reforms promised by Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar continue
to make progress. No objection has been made by the Bill Barrett Corporation, which
held the 30 wells in Nine
Mile Canyon

that triggered the suit.

In fact, the only
objection has come from Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who issued a statement Wednesday saying
he is outraged at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance for what he calls a “secret
deal.” But unlike the shortcuts it curtails, there’s nothing murky about this
settlement. SUWA was just one of several groups in a wide spectrum of
environmental and historic preservation advocates that brought this justice to
bear. In fact, after our groups took action in 2008, the government’s own
General Accountability Office took issue with the categorical exclusions in a
2009 report, pointing out that the BLM was out of compliance with the law, and
28 percent of drilling permits over two years had been issued with the loophole.
Use of categorical exclusions has shut the public and the agencies responsible
for monitoring public lands out of the conversation for years. This settlement marks a return to accountability and transparency in the issuance of
drilling permits.

Read the press release issued by SUWA, The Wilderness Society and The Nine Mile Canyon Coalition here.

–Jen Beasley, Legislative Advocate, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance