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Federal Study of West’s Energy Resources Reveals Broad Availability of Oil and Natural Gas

January 17, 2003
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Public Lands, Wildlife  
Albuquerque, NM – A federal study of oil and gas reserves on western public lands released yesterday could influence the management of millions of acres of sensitive lands in the West and reduce protections for wildlife habitat and wilderness, according to local conservation groups.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Department of Interior’s Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) study will be used to evaluate existing administrative rules regarding energy development on western public lands. Wildlife conservation groups are concerned that Interior could use the study to further rollback protections for western wildlife and wilderness.

The BLM conducted the EPCA study on an accelerated schedule on the recommendation of Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. In October of 2001, Congress approved $3 million to complete the study, which included an analysis of “impediments to federal oil and gas leasing” on public lands in the West.

The oil and gas industry has moved for removal of protective measures that ensure the preservation of pristine wilderness and wildlife habitat. Cheney’s energy task force report claimed that over 40% of federal natural gas reserves in the Rocky Mountain region were protected from drilling in April, 2001. The EPCA contradicts this claim, announcing that less than 15% of federal oil and gas reserves in the west are off limits to development.

“Wildlife protection, hunting, fishing and recreation are the cornerstone of the West’s economy, not ‘impediments to oil and gas development’ as the energy industry claims,” says Hamilton Smith of WildEarth Guardians “Healthy wildlife populations support a $750 million a year industry here in New Mexico and are part of a $17 billion wildlife and recreation industry in the West.”

Smith, a Conservation Biologist, cites the report as an important indicator that present available energy resources can be developed without further jeopardizing sensitive wildlife habitat from the impacts of energy development. “Unlike earlier claims from the Bush administration, there is no circumstance where the urgency for access to new reserves merits the displacement of threatened wildlife, or degradation of sensitive habitats.”

In New Mexico there is a suite of species which have been regarded as a nuisance to oil and gas lease holders. “Big game calving grounds and winter range, sensitive habitat for threatened species such as the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and the Northern Aplomado Falcon, and our limited aquatic habitats must retain present standards of protection…” states Smith. “This report validates the claim that there are ample available energy resources in the west without gutting the wilderness and endangered species protections presently in place.”

The WildEarth Guardians supports responsible energy development that meets the nation’s energy needs while protecting wildlife, wilderness and pristine public lands.