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SOURCE: Washington Post

DATE: October 27, 2018

SNIP: Reversing a trend in the final years of the Obama presidency, the Trump administration is auctioning off millions of acres of drilling rights to oil and gas developers, a central component of the White House’s plan to work hand in glove with the industry to promote more domestic energy production.

Seeing growth and profit opportunities at a time of rising oil prices and a pro-business administration, big energy companies like Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, and Anschutz Exploration are seizing on the federal lands free-for-all, as they collectively buy up tens of thousands of acres of new leases and apply for thousands of permits to drill.

In total, more than 12.8 million acres of federally controlled oil and gas parcels were offered for lease in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, triple the average offered during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Like the acreage offered for lease, the acreage actually leased by energy companies on federal lands hit its highest level last year since 2012, the height of the initial fracking boom in the United States. After 2012, a combination of Obama administration policy decisions and lower oil prices slowed demand for new drilling rights, a trend reversed since President Trump took office.

That reversal has been propelled in part by the Interior Department’s willingness to go along with industry pressure to weaken rules that govern how these federal lands can be used, as regulators follow detailed industry scripts for rollbacks in protections for wildlife, air quality and groundwater supplies, documents show.

The number of drilling rigs operating in the state has doubled since 2016 — and more are on the way. As many as 5,000 new oil wells are being planned in Converse, a county of about 14,000 people, along with 1,970 miles of new roads.

The Interior Department is also moving to ease restrictions that had limited access to certain critical wildlife habitats, such as the mating grounds used by the sage grouse.

The population of sage grouses in Wyoming — home to an estimated 40 percent of their global population — slumped over the past decades, but had started to recover after an intense effort to protect their mating grounds. Now, for two years in a row, the estimated male bird population has dropped nearly 30 percent according to state counts, declines that in the past have been attributed to surging energy production.

But perhaps the most visible shift — and real-world consequence — involves the watering down, completed in August, of an Obama-era rule intended to curb the flaring or venting of methane, an earth-warming gas that is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The hillsides here in Wyoming now light up like a birthday cake from the flaring at oil and gas production sites, which blaze through the day and night. Production has so outpaced the construction of new local pipelines that companies simply vent or burn off methane into the High Plains air at a rapidly increasing rate, state data shows. Through July, energy companies had flared or vented 72 percent more methane in Wyoming compared with two years ago, approaching levels seen before a national effort to reduce such emissions was starting.

Leases are sold off as low as $2/acre. The land on the auction block included mule deer migration corridors and sage grouse mating areas, the protests noted. Drilling on these plots would push up air pollution and ozone levels in a state that has suffered from bad air quality during the last natural gas boom, the groups argued.

It also might deplete critical groundwater supplies needed for area ranchers, they said. One oil and gas project in Converse County alone is expected to consume as much as 55 million barrels of water a year — or 124,100 barrels of water for each oil and gas well drilled.

[I urge everyone to read the rest of this important and horrifying article at The Washington Post.]