Another Big Gift to Oil & Gas: Zinke Fast Tracks Drilling on Public Lands
By Theo Spencer and Amy Mall
In another gift to big polluters, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke signed an order Thursday directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales and to issue new oil and gas drilling permits within only 30 days from application.
The oil and gas industry doesn't need any more special favors or giveaways. The fossil fuel industry has received taxpayer handouts for decades.
The BLM already makes the vast majority of federal lands available for oil and gas development. For example, BLM has classified more than 90 percent of lands it manages in 11 western states as available for oil and gas leasing. In contrast, conservation proposals have historically had to overcome greater institutional hurdles, and renewable energy projects on federal lands face much more stringent environmental standards than oil and gas development.
Zinke's quest for faster permitting ignores the fact that delays are often the fault of industry and operators, not the BLM. From FY 2005 to FY 2015, it took operators an average of 133 days to resolve deficiencies in permit applications they filed with BLM, according to the Center for American Progress.
Oil and gas drilling and fracking on public lands comes with a long list of threats to clean air, clean water, human health, wildlife and local communities. Federal oil and gas development with intensive industrial land disturbance and toxic chemicals has harmed human health, wildlife, sacred lands, drinking water sources and local economies focused on agriculture, tourism and outdoor recreation.
It is the source of toxic air pollution that harms nearby communities where people live, work, and go to school. It destroys vital wildlife habitat. It generates massive amounts of toxic waste. And these impacts last for generations.
We don't have time for 19th Century energy policies.
We face serious threats from climate change, and must now make smarter energy choices for the future. That means investing more in renewable sources, like wind and solar power not boom-and bust industries like drilling, fracking and mining that scar the land, taint our our water, overheat the planet and pollute local communities. We should not turn our public lands over to polluters for their profit at the expense of all Americans.
Clean energy provides, sustainable jobs and a healthier environment. Dirty energy—like oil, gas and coal—are not how we will power the future.
BLM, which oversees fossil fuel leasing, doesn't have enough staff to property enforce its current rules, or inspect dirty oil and gas sites. Forcing staff to expedite permitting with further strain the agency's ability to stop spills, leaks, pipeline failures and other problems.
For example, an internal review by the BLM found that inadequate funding for the inspection and enforcement program meant that some wells had gone uninspected for "10 to 12 years." A report by the GAO found that between 2009 and 2012, the BLM failed to inspect more than 55 percent of wells it deemed a high priority for inspection, based on several criteria such as known safety problems of the operator, geologic concerns, and concerns about nearby usable water. As the number of wells have grown, the number of safety and environmental inspections by BLM staff has not kept pace.
These lands belong to all Americans. Not oil, gas and coal companies. Generations of Americans have visited public lands for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and many other treasured activities. Americans from all walks of life and political inclinations visit and live near these public lands because they offer recreation, beauty, wildlife viewing and more. And we should be preserving them for future generations.
And the oil and gas industry also gets special financial favors. The BLM charges below-market rates for buying and holding leases, and for royalties on production.
And many agency decisions about oil and gas leasing and drilling on public lands are often made without the full environmental review required by law, denying the public the legally required opportunities to provide input and failing to consider and disclose the full environmental and health impacts of proposals. Yet Sec. Zinke has now truncated the time available for agency staff to thoroughly review applications for permits to drill.
It's clear that the oil and gas industry already has dominance of our public lands. Dirty, polluting, dangerous oil and gas drilling and fracking do not need any more special favors or shortcuts to environmental review.
Thursday's move benefits oil and gas company executives. The rest of us Americans stand to lose.
Theo Spencer is a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
By Tim Radford
Scientists have calculated yet another item on the human shopping list that makes up the modern world: plastics. They have estimated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts, as yet another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance.
Altogether, since about 1950, with the birth of a new industry, more than 8.3 billion tonnes (or 9.1 tons) of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded. Of that total, 6.3 billion tonnes are classified as waste.
By Jessica Corbett
As Senate Democrats stay silent on an energy bill that environmental groups call "a pro-fracking giveaway to oil and gas interests that would commit America to decades more of dangerous fossil fuel dependence," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is receiving applause for speaking out against it.
"As a nation, our job is to move away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy and energy efficiency. This bill does the opposite," Sanders said in a statement.
ExxonMobil filed suit against the federal government last week, claiming that a $2 million fine levied against the company by the Treasury Department is "unlawful" and "capricious."
The Treasury Department fined Exxon Thursday morning, alleging that the oil giant displayed "reckless disregard" of U.S.-Russian sanctions in its dealings with Russian company Rosneft in 2014 under CEO Rex Tillerson.
By Andy Rowell
For years, environmentalists have warned that due to climate change, there will be billions of barrels of oil that we will never be able to burn. These reserves will become what has increasingly been called "stranded assets."
To give you one example: In a new report, Friends of the Earth argued that "The coal, oil and gas in reserves already in production and development globally is more than we can afford to burn. There is no room for any new coal, oil or gas exploration and production.
Late last year, the tiny house community celebrated a watershed moment—an official appendix in the 2018 version of the International Residential Code, the model building code used by most jurisdictions in the U.S.
"There are many things that are monumental in the adoption of tiny house construction codes by the IRC," cheered Thom Stanton, the CEO of small space developer, Timber Trails. "Among them, that architects, designers, builders, community developers and (maybe most importantly) zoning officials have a means of recognizing tiny houses as an official form of permissible dwelling."
The colossal mass of throwaway plastic—from straws to bags to bottles—has grown much faster than recycling and disposal efforts can contain it. You might even say this is obvious, no matter where you look.
Check out this video from National Geographic to watch underwater photographer Huai Su film a diver collecting an endless amount of plastic bottles that litter the seafloor off Xiaoliuqiu Island, Taiwan.
A reef off the coast of Cancún will become the first in the world with its own insurance policy, testing a new strategy meant to encourage local investment in the wellbeing of the reef.
Under the policy, created by insurance company Swiss Re and the Nature Conservancy, local hotels and other organizations dependent on tourism will pay into the policy, receiving reimbursements to repair the reef and local beaches after natural disasters.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) denounced the USDA's permit for the world's first open-air trials of the Genetically Engineered (GE) Diamondback moth to be released in Geneva, New York.
This announcement came concurrently with the availability of a final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for the field release of the GE Diamondback moths. NOFA-NY considers the Environmental Assessment lacking comprehensive health and environmental details.