There’s bipartisanship on drilling in Washington. Who knew?
I don’t usually pay too much attention to what is going on at the federal level with regard to oil and gas drilling. I looked at the impact of oil and gas money on Congress awhile ago, and concluded that industry money is being spent specifically to keep the federal government out of oil and gas policy. The industry feels that by pushing action down to state and local levels they have a better chance to run their businesses without interference.
Bureau of Land Management Streamlining Act
So I didn’t even notice at the end of the year when President Obama signed into law the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Streamlining Act. The bill expands the service area of the Miles City BLM office to include North Dakota. The office will now be able to process permits for the Bakken, which will help to address backlog and delays.
According to Senator John Hoeven, who carried the bill in the Senate with fellow North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp,
“This legislation is about helping to cut red tape and making the federal permitting process more timely and efficient, Right now, it takes about 180 to 270 days to permit an oil well on BLM land in North Dakota, compared to about ten days on private lands. There are currently about 525 permits awaiting approval. This will help us to alleviate the backlog and other delays that are costing us jobs and economic growth. The BLM Streamlining Act will help us to achieve our goal of true energy independence.”
Not really, but that’s another post.
What is completely amazing is that, in a Congress where you can’t get bipartisan support to do anything, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one nay vote and 16 abstentions in the House.
These are the members of Congress in both houses who carried the bill, and the amount of contributions* they have received from the oil and gas industry prior to this election cycle:
* – Numbers may vary as contributions come in.
It’s worth noting that this bill to accelerate drilling to breakneck speed occurred four days before the Casselton rail disaster, a fairly clear signal that maybe things ought to be slowing down rather than speeding up.
If you want to know why this shining example of bipartisanship has occurred, you need look no further than the huge contributions from the industry that benefits from those votes. And to think I personally contributed to a couple of the elected officials mentioned in this post. Unfortunately not $100,000.
What it means for Carbon and Stillwater Counties
So where does that leave us out here in Carbon and Stillwater Counties?
The only real action the feds are willing to take is to grease the skids to keep oil extraction moving as fast as possible. Forget regulating drilling standards, water and emission standards, chemical composition of fracking water. From a federal point of view, these are irrelevant compared to tuning the economic engine.
At the state level, we’ve seen clear evidence that the industry-controlled Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation has no interest in being responsive to local needs to protect water and keep the Beartooths from becoming the land of train wrecks, explosions, expansion of drug cartels, and all the other things that breakneck oil and gas exploration are bringing to the Bakken. The statewide oil and gas tax holiday ensures that any state funds that flow our way in support will be inadequate.
It’s clear that nobody is motivated about the critical local issues with regard to maintaining water supply and quality, and preserving the local quality of life except local citizens. Local action is critical to keeping the community from getting overrun by the oil and gas industry: regional planning, zoning, strict binding requirements for corporations to treat land and water respectfully.
Without local action, what has happened in Powder River and the Bakken is likely to happen in Carbon and Stillwater Counties.