Bush panel aims to
speed energy drilling in West
WASHINGTON The Bush administration
on Thursday said it formed a committee to find faster ways for oil and natural gas companies to obtain drilling permits on
federal lands in the Rocky Mountains.
Environmental groups have criticized the
White House for being too eager to help the energy industry win access to federal lands that are now off-limits to drilling.
President George W. Bush, a former Texas
oilman, made energy exploration in the western U.S. a focal-point of his plan to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil
and to meet future demand for natural gas.
But chronic staff shortages within the
Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management have prevented the agency from reviewing permit requests within a self-imposed
30-day deadline, slowing development of oil and coalbed methane deposits.
The newly created Rocky Mountain Energy
Council, composed of state officials from Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado and officials from federal agencies that participate
in energy exploration, will hold its first meeting on Aug. 26 in suburban Denver.
"It is intended that the council take a
broader geographic and longer-term perspective on managing renewable and nonrenewable resources, including their identification,
production, and transmission to market," the White House said in a notice published in the Federal Register.
The panel will aim to foster energy development
in an environmentally responsible manner, the White House said.
The Bureau of Land Management has looked
for ways to speed up the permit process internally, including allowing officials to review multiple permits together when
similar environmental conditions exist.
A study released by the agency earlier
this year said two-thirds of federal land in five Western states is already available for oil and natural gas drilling.
Some 59 million acres in Colorado, Utah,
Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico contain an estimated 3.9 billion barrels of oil and 138.5 trillion cubic feet of gas that
is technically recoverable.
The United States consumes about 7 billion
barrels of oil each year, importing more than half of that total.
Last month, the League of Conservation
Voters gave the Bush administration an "F" on a report card evaluating his environmental actions and legislative proposals
during the past two years. The activist group said the White House has "declared virtual war against America's public lands"
to help boost the profits of energy, logging and mining companies.