The pressure comes from Washington

Federal Wildlife Monitors Oversee a Boom in Drilling By Blaine Harden, Washington Post Staff Writer

The Bureau of Land Management, caretaker of more land and wildlife than any federal agency, routinely restricts the ability of its own biologists to monitor wildlife damage caused by surging energy drilling on federal land, according to BLM officials and bureau documents.

The officials and documents say that by keeping many wildlife biologists out of the field doing paperwork on new drilling permits and that by diverting agency money intended for wildlife conservation to energy programs, the BLM has compromised its ability to deal with the environmental consequences of the drilling boom it is encouraging on public lands. …

With the aggressive backing of the Bush administration, many members of Congress and the energy industry, at least a sixfold expansion in drilling is likely here in the coming decade.

Recent studies of mule deer and sage grouse, however, show steep declines in their numbers since the gas boom began [on the high sage plains of western Wyoming, often called the Serengeti of the West,] about five years ago: a 46 percent decline for mule deer and a 51 percent decline for breeding male sage grouse. Early results from a study of pronghorn antelope show that they, too, avoid the gas fields. …

“It is a huge attraction for biologists to work in western Wyoming,” he said. “But in this [BLM] office, they want you to look at things in a single-minded way. I have spent less than 1 percent of my time in the field. If we continue down this trend of keeping biologists in the office and preventing them from doing substantive work, there is a train wreck coming for wildlife.” …

Here in Wyoming, what has angered Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D), along with state wildlife managers, environmental groups, many local residents and some oil industry executives is what they describe as growing evidence of a lack of balance in the federal push for more drilling — even as scientific studies show significant and worrisome declines in wildlife around gas fields. Those studies have been funded by the BLM and the energy industry.

The BLM’s pace of issuing new permits to drill in Wyoming and across the West has continued to increase, even though the oil and gas industry — which is chronically short of drilling rigs and skilled workers — cannot drill nearly enough holes in the ground to keep up with the permits that have already been granted. In the past two years, the BLM issued a record 13,070 drilling permits on federal land, but industry drilled just 5,844 wells.

“The pressure comes from Washington ….”

“We are seeing the handing over of a multiple-use valley to the energy industry,” Baker said. “This is a disaster in the making.”

Rather than slowing down to assess wildlife impact and to allow energy companies to catch up to drilling permits already issued, … the BLM appears to be stepping on the accelerator. It has just released a proposal that recommends granting permits for drilling 3,100 more wells in nearby Jonah Field — a sixfold increase over the number of current wells.

Federal management of drilling here has angered a former senior energy executive who lives near Pinedale.

“There is no well-thought-out, overall development plan for this field,” said Kirby L. Hedrick, a former vice president at Phillips Petroleum Co. in charge of worldwide exploration and now a member of the board of directors of Noble Energy Inc. in Houston. “The BLM has been approving plans ad hoc.”

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