Hopes for the Next Four Years: Oil and Gas drilling

Oil rig in Utah

Courtesy of the BLM

The re-election of President Obama opens up new opportunities to protect wild places. The Wilderness Society will feature a series on what we hope to see in the next four years, both from the administration and from Congress.

The last four years have been incredibly important for oil and gas drilling on America’s wild public lands. Gone are the unbridled – and often illegal – leasing extravaganzas of the Bush administration that threatened millions of acres of wild lands. Oil and gas leasing reforms have helped to keep wild public lands across the Rocky Mountain West free of unnecessary leasing and drilling, while ensuring that the oil and gas industry has plenty of drilling permits to extract oil and gas resources from appropriate places.

The next four years must continue these positive steps. The Wilderness Society’s “Making the Grade” progress report shows where the Obama administration has been successful in reforming the Bureau of Land Management's oil and gas leasing program, and where there is still room for improvement. Among the areas we’re hoping to see improvement in are:

  • Finalizing how Master Leasing Plans will be implemented to balance the protection of important wildlands and wildlife habitat with oil and gas development needs. Master Leasing Plans should help identify lands that are "too wild to drill", as well as areas that are more suitable for safe drilling and how that leasing and drilling can proceed.
  • Protect Greater sage-grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. These birds’ habitats are being threatened by a variety of activities, including oil and gas drilling. The Gunnison sage-grouse is already endangered. And while the greater sage-grouse are not formally listed as “endangered” yet, the Fish & Wildlife Service is considering doing so and the loss of more habitat to oil and gas development could push them over the edge – something that neither conservationists nor oil and gas companies want to see happen.
  • Increasing protection for the wildest areas. There are millions of acres across the West that could be considered for Wilderness designation or other protection – pristine, untouched, and remarkably wild. Making sure that the wildest of these places are identified and protected for future generations should be one of the administration’s top priorities.
  • Protecting wildlands and waters from fracking. Common sense rules are needed to make sure that public lands used for oil and gas drilling aren’t tainted by the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing -- or "fracking" -- or by the "flowback water" that accompanies hydraulic fracturing operations.  Disclosing the contents of fracking fluids, and improving the standards for safely using them and disposing of flowback water, are critical steps to protecting not just wildlands but also nearby communities.

America has rapidly increased its oil and gas production during the past four years – imports of foreign oil have dropped and are likely to continue to drop into the future. It is critical that protection of wild places on our public lands of in the West – places like Desolation Canyon and Otero Mesa – is a priority for the next four years.


Hopes for the Next Four Years