Latest drilling bill threatens Arctic and wildlands

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UPDATE: A bad bill is now even worse – an amendment has been added to the bill that would also remove the public’s ability to protest bad leasing and drilling decisions. This dangerous amendment will shut out communities and concerned citizens from the process, while still letting the oil industry nominate lands to drill.

A new bill that aims to open vulnerable wildlands to drilling was introduced to the House last week. The euphemistically (and inaccurately) titled Lowering Gasoline Prices to Fuel an America That Works Act, or H.R. 4899, is a rehash of several older bills that seek to open more federal land to drilling. However, the bill not only ignores the environmental impact of drilling in sensitive wildlands, but it also overlooks the millions of unused acres already leased to the oil and gas industry.

One of the areas most threatened by H.R. 4899 is the spectacular National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPRA) – also known as the Western Arctic Reserve. Only last year, the Obama administration reached a compromise that would protect 11 million acres in the NPRA. This compromise was a win-win for both conservationists and the oil and gas industry. It kept 72% of oil in the area open to drilling while also protecting 95% of the most critical wildlife habitat. H.R. 4899 would completely overturn this compromise.

This bill would also place leasing decisions in the hands of the industry instead of the government. This would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The government has a strong interest in making sure that wild lands are available for all Americans to enjoy. This bill, instead, would make sure that the oil and gas industry gets their pick of lands to drill, with the federal government being a rubber stamp for their decisions.

There is one thing that the industry has that they don’t want to talk about, however. The oil and gas industry already has more land than they know what to do with. As of 2013, the oil and gas industry has leased over 23 million acres of land that is sitting idle – nearly two thirds of the lands they’ve leased. Furthermore, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved over 6,700 permits for drilling that are not being used.

Compromise is possible between conservationists and oil interests, but H.R. 4899 is not the way to do it. The oil and gas industry and their allies in Congress continue to seek additional drilling concessions, ignoring the millions of acres already available to them for this purpose. This bill threatens wild places unnecessarily, and The Wilderness Society is working to make sure it never reaches the President’s desk.

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