Jumping the gun: Interior Secretary Zinke gives oil and gas companies what they want before they can even ask for it

by Jesse Prentice-Dunn as published on WestWise

Public comment opportunity rings hollow as Interior staff don’t bother waiting for end of meeting to send official memo granting oil and gas industry wish

These days, when the oil and gas industry says “jump,” Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department asks “how high?” Yesterday, at a meeting of an advisory committee loaded with industry interests, oil and gas representatives recommended the Interior Department punch more loopholes through a landmark environmental law, reducing environmental reviews and public input on new drilling projects. Before the meeting had even ended, agency officials had already granted their wish.

The race by the Interior Department to grant this oil and gas industry request shows that opportunities for public input are treated by Zinke’s staff as a complete sham. At yesterday’s Royalty Policy Committee meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so many people showed up to oppose the industry proposals that a 30-minute public comment period ran to an hour and a half. Protesters demonstrated outside.

Secretary Zinke’s energy advisor, Vincent DeVito, tweeted his thanks to all that showed up, later telling E&E News, “these folks, some have jobs, I presume; some have other things to do; some have errands — and if they’re coming here to be heard by the government, why would we do anything other than hear them?”

But in this Interior Department, ordinary members of the public stand no chance against the oil and gas industry. The folks who gave public comment in Albuquerque didn’t even have to wait 8 hours before their input was rejected.

When companies seek to drill new oil and gas wells on public lands, they generally have to conduct an environmental review, involving opportunities for the public to comment, as required by the nearly 50-year old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These reviews help minimize impacts to communities and critical outdoor places.

Industry lobbyists have long sought to reduce or eliminate those reviews on new drilling projects, and in Secretary Zinke’s Royalty Policy Committee, they found a megaphone. A subcommittee comprised of two oil and gas associations, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, and a political representative for Alaska’s pro-drilling governor recommended that Secretary Zinke mandate the application of environmental review loopholes to a wide range of drilling projects, something that had previously been up to the discretion of local field offices.

Amazingly, before the meeting had finished, acting director of the Bureau of Land Management Brian Steed sent a memo to all BLM field offices directing them to apply those loopholes, passed as part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, that would exempt projects from environmental reviews and the accompanying public input if proposed wells:

  • Would disturb less than 5 acres and have been previously evaluated in a “site-specific” NEPA document, or
  • Are drilled in a location previously drilled within the past 5 years, or
  • Are drilled within a “developed field” that has been evaluated through the NEPA process within the past 5 years.
Public lands where drilling could occur in the future (in blue), and where environmental review loopholes could be applied

These broad exemptions could be applied to new drilling projects across the West, with negative impacts for communities and wildlife. An analysis by University of Utah law professor John Ruple and former Commerce Department attorney Mark Capone found that drilling projects developed using these loopholes generally result in greater surface disturbance than those undergoing an environmental review, largely as the result of piecemeal road planning. The scholars concluded that these loopholes could be “permitting tens of thousands of acres of avoidable surface disturbance every year.”

Given Secretary Zinke’s track record of pushing drilling on our public lands at all costs and his cozy relationship with industry CEOs, it’s not surprising that his staff acted on oil and gas industry requests. It is remarkable, however, that Zinke’s staff were so eager that they couldn’t even wait until the meeting was over before granting industry representatives their wish.

7 comments

  1. This appears to be similar to the actions of the BLM’s decision-making process for our wild equine including:
    #1 ignore public input,
    #2 ignore the NEPA laws,
    #3 ignore science,
    #4 make decision according to what “big-wigs” with big bucks want,
    #5 make all decisions in secrecy and collusion before public announcement and then just pretend the decision is fair, lawful and based on what is best for Americans.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sure does sound like hitting the ignore button is spreading throughout these “agencies”! But then, I guess thats the point for this administration – all that matters is what they want and can profit from.
      This democracy is feeling less & less like one every day.
      In somewhat the same vein – theres an interesting article on the Mountain Journal regarding the Yellowstone superintendent who just got pushed out. More of the same type of “transfer” as we have been reading about right along.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interior Secretary Zinke asked for confidential energy data. So two scientists left.
    by Juliet Eilperin

    Two senior U.S. Geological Survey officials have stepped down after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke asked that they provide his office with confidential data on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska before it was released to the general public.

    Murray W. Hitzman and Larry Meinert – who had served as the agency’s associate director for energy and minerals and acting deputy associate director for energy and minerals mission area, respectively — charge that the request violated the USGS’s scientific integrity policy because such commercially valuable data should not be shared in advance. Section 3c of the policy states, “Particularly sensitive results, however, such as energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity reports that typically have significant economic implications are not disclosed or shared in advance of public release because pre-release in these cases could result in unfair advantage or the perception of unfair advantage.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/02/21/two-scientists-have-left-the-interior-department-after-zinke-demanded-confidential-energy-data/

    Like

  3. This Administrstion.and our illustrious US Congressional members are the lowest ofthe lowest. Our country is NO longer a Democracy but a dictatorship by that Moran and his Basket of Deplorables in DC! They are ALL weak and that includes those on the Democratic side! Our country is being destroyed from the inside so who needs outsiders because they are destroying us from within! Our environment and the animals in are taking a toll! These people are the worse cancer possible! And some people thought it didn’t matter if they voted or not. Just think about what are Country would be like if Hillary.Clinton.took her rightful place in the White House! End of story!

    Like

  4. In what some observers called a “tweetable deliverable,” the agreement between JD.com Inc. and the Montana Stockgrowers Association was signed in Beijing with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in attendance.

    It was part of a larger move where JD.com, China’s second-largest online retailer, agreed to buy about $2 billion in U.S. goods over the next three years. Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Errol Rice and Cross Four Ranch owner Fred Wacker represented Montana at the signing.

    The deal caps several years of trade diplomacy by Daines and former Montana senator and ambassador to China Max Baucus. In addition to the $200 million in Montana beef purchases, JD.com also sealed a memorandum of understanding to invest another $100 million in a new slaughterhouse facility in Montana.

    https://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/montana-ranchers-rope-deal-to-sell-beef-to-china/article_d7dfb4da-ed66-5b2b-8196-13b3895c6371.html

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