Groups call on BLM chief to suspend drilling permit practice skirting NEPA

A coalition of environmental groups is demanding the U.S. Bureau of Land Management immediately suspend use of so-called “390 categorical exclusions” for permitting oil and gas drilling operations on BLM land.

In a letter signed by, among others, Western Resource Advocate, Environment Colorado and the Colorado Environmental Coalition, and dated Oct. 2, the groups call on BLM director Bob Abbey to conduct a full internal review of the practice in the wake of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that blasted the permitting mechanism designed to step up domestic production under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

That reported found that about 28 percent of all the permit applications approved between 2006 and 2008, or around 6,100, were granted using categorical exclusions, which allow for drilling permits outside of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. But the GAO found that in 85 percent of those cases BLM officials failed to follow proper guidelines.

The groups sending the letter to Abbey contend oil and gas leasing on federal lands “must be done right pursuant to comprehensive environmental review that includes quality cumulative impacts analyses,” and called for an immediate suspension of what they dub a “free pass” to industry.

Also cited are recent media reports in which BLM and other officials acknowledged problems and called for changes – including the Denver Post and Casper Star Tribune — but in some cases said they’re waiting for Washington to tell them to change how they’re doing business.

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