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.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
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Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
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While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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