Environmentalists out of the loop on new oil, gas wells
WASHINGTON - In an aggressive push by the Bush administration to open more public land to oil and gas production, the Interior Department has quit conducting environmental reviews and seeking comment from local residents every time drilling companies propose new wells.
Field officials have been told to begin looking at issuing permits based on past studies of an entire project, even though some of those assessments may be outdated. The instructions are in a directive from the department's Bureau of Land Management expected to cover hundreds of anticipated new drilling applications.
President Bush and Congress authorized the streamlining as part of a 1,724-page energy bill signed into law in August. BLM officials, saying the need for energy supplies is immediate, showed unusual speed implementing it. Kathleen Clarke, the agency's director, sent out the new guidance Sept. 30.
''Yes, it is a priority of the White House,'' BLM Deputy Director Jim Hughes said in an interview. ''We are moving expeditiously to implement the law. We think all these items will increase the supply this winter. However, everyone is saying it won't be enough to wipe out the impact of the hurricanes and all that.''
The energy bill created new ''categorical exclusions'' under the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act for allowing new oil, gas and geothermal wells without first conducting environmental studies or soliciting public comment on them.