On Friday, Rep. Doug Lamborn’s Energy & Minerals Subcommittee is holding a hearing to examine categorical exclusions, or CX. During the Bush years, BLM officials used CX to avoid conducting comprehensive environmental impact studies prior to green lighting drilling permits. In May of 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reformed the use of CX in drilling permitting to avoid its abuse. Naturally, the oil and gas industry was unhappy to have to play by the rules. So enter Big Oil investment Rep. Lamborn to claim that a lack of CX is hurting the oil industry.
Originally used for streamlining low impact developments like safety fences or wildlife perches, five years ago CX changed. President Bush signed a law expanding the types of CX to cover oil and gas drilling projects. For the duration of the Bush administration, Bureau of Land Management officials applied these shortcuts with increasing frequency. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from October 2010, from 2006 to 2008 the Bush BLM used CX in 61,000 cases, or 28 percent of all onshore drilling permits granted.
That same report stated that in 85 percent of the cases sampled, the CX were applied illegally, and drilling permits were improperly issued. In some cases, the GAO wrote, the CX, “may have thwarted (the National Environmental Policy Act)’s twin aims of ensuring that BLM and the public are fully informed of the environmental consequences of BLM’s actions.”
Rep. Lamborn’s hearing is titled, “Impacts to Onshore Jobs, Revenue, and Energy: Review and Status of Sec. 390 Categorical Exclusions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.” One statistic that probably won’t be brought up, at least not by Rep. Lamborn or his fellow Big Oil investments on the committee, is that onshore drilling activity is back to pre-recession levels and nearing a twenty-year high in the United States. Another is that the Interior Department expects to issue more than 40 percent more drilling permits in 2011 than it issued in 2010.
Finally, according to the Bureau of Labor Standards, the energy industry is adding an average of roughly 6,000 jobs per month so far this year.
The moral of this cautionary tale about CX is that BLM’s efforts to ensure common sense protections of our water, air and wildlife over the last year hasn’t hurt the oil and gas industry. After all, the oil and gas industry is already sitting on more than 6,500 unused drilling permits and idle leases covering millions of acres.
With that in mind, what will Focus on the Family have to say about Rep. Lamborn’s support of unsafe CX?
*Editor’s note: All credit for first thinking up “unsafe CX” goes to Sarah Gilman of High Country News.