Natural Places Threatened by Bush Energy Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, March 7, 2002 (ENS) - The Bush administration's plans to increase energy exploration on public lands threatens to permanently damage many of America's natural places, charges a new report released today by The Wilderness Society. The Senate is now debating a bill which would implement parts of that energy plan.


Hemlock and beech trees in the Tionesta Scenic Area of Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania - one of 18 areas identified by the Wilderness Society of being at particular risk from energy exploration. (Photo by Kirk Johnson. All photos courtesy The Wilderness Society)
The report, "Big Oil's Energy Plan: The Cost to Our Wild Lands and Waters," highlights 18 wild lands that are at risk from the Bush administration's friendly relationship with the oil and gas industry. The report documents that with very little public debate or scrutiny, the White House has already allowed oil and gas companies to begin operations in some of the most fragile places in the country.

"The Bush Administration has made clear its intention to open up millions of acres of national forests and other public lands for oil, gas and coal companies to feast on. Even the country's National Parks and coastal waters are threatened," said William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. "These places provide clean drinking water, outstanding places to hike, hunt or fish, and are home to a stunning variety of wildlife. Some places ought to be off limits to drilling because they are simply too special to drill."

In Florida, for example, the administration is considering giving permission to an oil company to set off thousands of underground explosions within Big Cypress National Preserve, the National Park unit adjacent to Everglades. In California, the Bush Administration pushes to drill coastal waters that have been left alone for years and that the state wants protected.

In Utah, National Park officials worry that gas exploration near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks will harm scenic views, destroy fragile soils, and lead to abuse by off road vehicles. Already, conservation groups have documented deep gouges left by massive thumper trucks used to map underground deposits of oil and gas.

Big Cypress

The Bush administration has approved a plan to explore for oil within Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve (Photo by Raymond Gehman/CORBIS)
In Colorado, the administration has opened up one of the last unprotected roadless forests in the San Juan National Forest. In New Mexico, the administration reversed previous proposals by expediting a new plan to open thousands of acres of fragile grasslands to oil and gas development.

In Alaska, the administration continues to fight to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Although the Senate energy bill would not authorize this move, environmentalists worry that supporters of Arctic drilling will attempt to add the measure in a rider.

Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota and Energy Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, both Democrats, introduced legislation that is in stark contrast to the energy bill passed last year by the House. The Republican leadership in the House passed a bill (HR 4) that would make it more difficult for land managers to protect sensitive wild lands from oil and gas drilling, while providing $34 billion in subsidies to these corporations.

"As a nation, we must decide whether we want a sound and balanced energy policy that will sustain us," continued Meadows. "Americans have a right to energy security and the security of our natural heritage."


The administration has appealed a judge's ruling upholding California's right to restrict oil and natural gas drilling in state coastal waters.
Despite record breaking profits last year, big oil and gas companies are aggressively lobbying the Senate to pass an energy bill that would weaken or undermine environmental safeguards that protect special lands and waters from the damage caused by oil and gas drilling.

In 2001, the Bush Administration issued a record number of drilling permits for public lands. The vast majority of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Rocky Mountain states - more than 90 percent - is open to leasing and drilling.

"The oil and gas industry has taken full advantage of this access with widespread exploration and development activities," said Dave Alberswerth, director of The Wilderness Society's Bureau of Land Management program. "There nearly 60,000 producing oil and gas wells on public lands in this country. There should be some places protected, some places are too special, and too beautiful to permit energy corporations to destroy."

A move today by a bipartisan group of Senators to support an alternative means of increasing U.S. energy security - increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks sold in the United States - lends some hope that the Senate will oppose Arctic drilling and subsidies to the energy industry. The agreement led by Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican John McCain of Arizona, would raise corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards to an average of 36 miles per gallon by 2015.


The Vermillion Basin in Colorado has been targeted for new oil and natural gas leases. (Photo by Mark Pearson)
This step could ease U.S. dependence on oil, saving as much as one million barrels per day by 2016.

"There is a path to securing the nation's energy future without drilling the nation's wilderness heritage," said Meadows. "The solution lies in American know how and technology. Rather than drilling the nation's parks, forests, monuments and coastlines on behalf of big oil and gas companies, the administration should invest in renewable, clean energy sources and energy efficient cars and appliances."

The full report is available at: