Politics

Feds aim to close off more lands to drilling, despite Obama remarks

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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On Friday, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Land Management announced it was opening up 677,000 acres for oil shale drilling in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and also 130,000 for tar sands activities in Utah.

However, in doing so, the administration has closed off 1.6 million acres originally slated for shale development, reports the Hill, despite the president touting his record of expanding oil drilling on federal lands during the campaign.

“We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration and my — the previous president was an oil man,” President Barack Obama said during the second presidential debate. “And natural gas isn’t just appearing magically. We’re encouraging it and working with the industry.”

“Once again, the president’s rhetoric on domestic energy development is light years away from the real-world regulations his administration implements,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for the Institute for Energy Research, in a statement. “The President wasted no time between a celebration in Chicago on Tuesday night and a return to business as usual back in Washington.”

During the debates, Republican candidate Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for closing off federal lands and offshore areas to drilling. Romney also pointed out the falling oil and gas production on federal lands.

“As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent,” Romney said in the second debate. “Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands, and in federal waters.”

According to IER, oil production on federal lands fell 11 percent from 2010 to 2011, and natural gas production on federal lands fell 6 percent during that same period. On private and state lands, however, oil production increased 14 percent, and natural gas production increased 12 percent.

The plan has drawn criticism from Republicans who say that the president has locked up valuable resources that could help grow the economy and create jobs.

“The president is locking up an area that contains about 1.5 trillion barrels of recoverable oil — that’s about as much recoverable oil as the rest of the world’s proven reserves combined,” said Kentucky Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield.

“Allowing safe and responsible energy development on federal lands is a critical step toward reducing our dependence on Middle East oil, but rather than embrace our country’s resources, the president is designating even more federal areas as off-limits,” Whitfield added.

Democrats and the Obama administration contend that the plan still opens up a significant amount of land for drilling, even though less is now open than had been planned, reports the Hill.

“I am glad the Interior Department is taking measured steps to encourage research and development of our oil shale resources,” said Colorado Democrat Sen. Mark Udall. “With water being one of our most precious commodities in the West, I have concerns about the potential impacts of commercial oil shale development.”

The Obama administration has, however, expanded federal lands access to development of renewable energy. In August, the Interior and Defense departments announced a partnership to open 16 million acres for renewable energy development in the southwestern United States and offshore.

And as of July 2012, 31 major renewable energy projects had been permitted, enough to generate nearly 7,000 megawatts of electricity for about two million homes — a majority of this energy involves utility-scale solar projects, according to the White House.

“Developing America’s solar energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s commitment to expanding American-made energy, increasing energy security, and creating jobs,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“While other countries like Canada are busy growing their economy by developing their own resources, this administration is busy promoting policies that embargo our own oil from ourselves,” said Whitfield.

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