Outdated Laws, Tricky Maneuvers Lock Up Land in Montana

Reprinted from Montana Petroleum Report

It’s not just Centrocercus, the sage grouse. It’s also a century-old law called the “Antiquities Act of 1906.” These are just two of many levers that are being pushed to bring oil and natural gas production to a halt in our country, and Montana has a front row seat for watching it all.

Citing the need to protect sage grouse mating areas from oil and natural gas activities, national environmental groups have sued to stop energy development in the bird’s habitat in a number of states, including in some of the Montana’s oldest oil and gas fields where the species has been breeding and nesting, co-existing with drilling rigs for decades.

Internal documents reveal the Obama administration is meeting with environmentalists about using the 1906 Antiquities Law to lock away 2.5 million acres of land in Montana. The law allows a U.S. president to remove federal land from multiple uses by executive order. This would mean restricted grazing, restricted mineral rights and limited recreational use.

A national environmental organization (Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership) joined with Montana Wildlife Federation and their affiliated rod and gun clubs across Montana to petition the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to make another 225,000 acres in eastern Montana ineligible for leasing for oil and gas development.

Whether it’s to save a bird that’s not endangered or whether it’s to move public lands out of active use in order to “protect” the lands, a range of reasons is being given for stopping energy production in the West.

It’s already begun in Montana. This year BLM suspended 63 oil and natural gas leases in Montana that were issued in 2008. This was a way to settle lawsuits filed by national environmental groups that complained the BLM did not perform an analysis of climate change impacts before granting the leases. The Obama administration has now suspended all leasing of federal minerals in Montana and the Dakotas until this analysis is completed.

At the same time the Obama administration has restricted off shore oil and natural gas drilling, it is declaring many of our own onshore energy sources off limits. Already more than 25 percent of all federal oil and gas mineral supplies are unavailable for exploration and development.

But don’t blame the stoppage on a bird or dredge up arcane laws and obscure rules. The Obama administration should come clean and own up to its real intent: to sideline the U.S. energy industry and severely restrict its ability to produce essential oil and natural gas here in North America.

Instead of nibbling the energy industry to death, one sharp bite at a time, the government should decide if we want an oil and gas industry at all. If the answer is yes, then let’s proceed with responsible drilling of oil and natural gas reserves. If not, then the government ought to tell us where it plans to get the energy we need in order to live.

Shut out: Recent actions take land out of active use, reduce energy strength

Locked up:

  • To settle a lawsuit over climate change, the BLM placed a moratorium on 63 mineral leases in eastern Montana.
  • A settlement with extreme environmental groups forced the BLM to halt oil and gas leasing in the Dakotas and Montana while the impacts of leasing on climate change were analyzed. Currently there is no leasing of federal oil and gas assets in Montana or the Dakotas.
  • The U.S. and Canada signed an agreement that prohibits mineral exploration and production in the North Fork basin area in northwest Montana.
  • All federal minerals are unavailable for development along the Rocky Mountain front.

More Montana lands could go into cold storage

  • The National Wildlife Federation and the Montana Wildlife Federation sued the State Board of Oil and Gas Conservation to stop drilling on private lands in one of Montana’s oldest oil and gas fields to protect sage grouse habitat.
  • Senator Tester’s wilderness bill adds more federal lands to the list that are already off limits.
  • Recent internal U.S. Department of Interior memos indicate the administration is in discussion with environmental groups about designating up to 2.5 million acres of land in Montana as a “monument.” This would be in addition to the 377,000 acres designated by President Clinton as the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument.
  • The BLM is petitioned by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership to remove—forever—225,000 acres around Ft. Peck from oil and gas exploration in addition to the 1.1 million acres already restricted by the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Environmental groups have sued the BLM because the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument plan does not offer enough “protection.”
  • The U.S. Department of Interior introduced new oil and gas regulations for permitting onshore oil and gas development that would effectively hamstring new development without taking into consideration the impact on jobs and domestic energy security.
  • The powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, has invoked the bureaucratic powers of the National Environmental Policy Act and Executive Order 13337 to stop TransCanada from building a pipeline that would traverse Montana, bringing crude oil from Canada – a friendly foreign source of oil.

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Copyright (c) 2013 by PolyMontana LLC or by the author. All rights reserved.

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