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Federal report cites environmental lapses in oil and gas drilling

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Interior Department is spending so much time approving oil and gas drilling permits on public lands that it often fails to do an adequate job policing the environment, congressional investigators say.Nationwide, oil and gas drilling permits from the department’s Bureau of Land Management more than tripled from 1999 to 2004. But as those rose, from 1,803 to 6,399, BLM officials in five Western field offices complained staffers had less time for field inspections.”A dramatic increase in oil and gas development on federal lands over the past six years has lessened BLM’s ability to meet its environmental protection responsibilities,” officials with the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said in a report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The report had not yet been publicly released.The effects can range from removing several acres of vegetation at a drilling well pad to fragmenting tens of thousands of acres of winter range for mule deer, the report said.Most of the increased oil and gas exploration has been in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Those five states approved 97 percent of the total permits. In the Buffalo, Wyo., office, 2,151 permits were approved; second busiest was Vernal, Utah, with 503.Those offices, the GAO said, failed to keep up with environmental inspections five of those six years.Rebecca Watson, assistant interior secretary for land and minerals, said the report “does much to capture the myriad demands” on BLM. But she said the administration is committed to “providing for orderly energy development in an environmentally responsive manner.”Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who requested the report in May 2003, called it evidence the administration “appears to have lost its sense of balance between granting drilling permits to the oil and gas industry and protecting the natural wonder of the environment.”He said the administration’s “emphasis on streamlining the process for granting drilling permits means that BLM staff spends less time remedying the environmental affects of the oil and gas drilling and more time processing drilling permit applications.”


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