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US govt to release oil estimates in West

Date: 15-Jan-03
Country: USA
Author: Christopher Doering

An Interior Department spokesman said this week the report estimating energy reserves in national monuments, forests and other federally owned lands in the West will be released on Thursday.

Interior's Bureau of Land Management planned to issue the report in November, but the assessment was delayed several times by internal reviews.

The $3 million study was proposed by the Clinton administration and funded by Congress in 2000 to assess the energy potential of several key areas as well as their recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, an Interior official said.

The areas studied include San Juan Paradox in New Mexico, the Montana Thrust Belt, Colorado's Uinta Piceance, and Wyoming's Green River Valley and Powder River Basin.

The official declined to detail the report's findings.

The Bush administration, which has been criticized by environmental groups for being too eager to help the oil industry, said the study weighed all possible uses of the land.

"The Interior Department is committed to a long-term strategy that produces energy on federal lands in an environmentally safe way. That means increasing renewable energy production on federal lands, and increasing traditional energy sources," the Interior official said.

Environmental groups fear the report will boost support for energy exploration by outlining oil and natural gas reserves that are technically recoverable rather than those that are profitable for companies to remove.

"If in fact the administration exaggerates the amount of oil and gas that is technically recoverable they will be ignoring common sense just so they can hand over some of the West's most fragile lands to the oil and gas industry," said Dave Slater, a spokesman with the Wilderness Society.

In a recent 31-page report of its own, the Wilderness Society estimated that if more drilling was allowed in key national forests and monuments in the West, the combined areas would produce only enough natural gas to meet U.S. demand for about 11 weeks, and crude oil to satisfy consumption for about 3 weeks.

Parts of the West have seen increased activity in recent months due to oil, gas and coal companies looking to capitalize on rising energy prices and increasing estimates of some energy reserves.

The U.S. Geological Survey last month increased its estimate of coalbed methane reserves in the Rocky Mountains after collecting new data from exploring and drilling operations.

President George W. Bush, a former Texas oilman, has called for a significant increase in energy production from public lands to help lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to meet future demand for natural gas needed in power plants.

An estimated 105 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, for example, are located on public lands in the lower 48 states that are currently off limits to drilling. Another 108 Tcf are located in areas that are subject to restrictions, according to earlier estimates from the Interior Department.

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