Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Forest Lands in the East (USA) Attract Oil and Gas Bidders, But Some Question Rush

National Forest Service lands as a percentage ...
National Forest Service lands as a percentage of total area by state. Data from http://www.fs.fed.us/land/staff/lar/2007/TABLE_4.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com

Oil and gas companies looking to lease swathes of U.S. Forest Service land holding the promise of shale gas deposits and other fossil fuel resources have made the Bureau of Land Management’s Eastern States Office in Springfield ground zero for a new land rush.

For years Forest Service land in the East was considered irrelevant when it came to oil and gas leasing. But in the past year and a half, the federal government has leased or scheduled for auction more than 384,000 acres at the request of private bidders, more than 10 times as much land as it had leased in the previous two years.

The burst of activity has sparked a public debate over how to reconcile the different uses of national forests. The office was scheduled to auction the rights to energy exploration on nearly 90,000 acres of Forest Service land in four states - Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi - next week, but announced Friday it would delay the Alabama auction in the face of widespread protest there.

Meanwhile, officials at Virginia’s George Washington Forest are embroiled in a controversy over whether to ban any future horizontal drilling in the forest, as they proposed last year, or leave open the possibility for companies in the future.

The intense competition in recent years to lease private land for a form of oil and gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made federal lands overlying shale deposits more attractive even if they might not be developed for years, said Kevin Book, managing director for research at Clearview Energy Partners.

With the exception of 38,174 acres in Alabama’s Conecuh National Forest, all of the Eastern U.S. forest acreage leased since 2011 lies over shale deposits. “Every area overlying shale resources is being leased, whether it’s in the West or the East,” Book said.

“When the race is on and in the heat of battle, the price of private land is very expensive. The federal government makes it slower and more difficult to do [drilling], but by comparison these are relatively cheap leases.”

Private land overlying shale deposits can sell for thousands of dollars an acre; land in the most recent BLM forest leases averaged $47 per acre. Robert Bonnie, senior adviser to the secretary of agriculture for environment and climate, said Friday that the government decided to delay the auction of 42,965 acres in Alabama’s Talladega National Forest because “both the Forest Service and the BLM recognize the need to solicit public input on this.”

But he said the government would press ahead with energy exploration elsewhere on national forests. “What we balance is conservation and resource extraction,” Bonnie said.

To read further, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/forest-lands-in-the-east-attract-oil-and-gas-bidders-but-some-question-rush/2012/06/08/gJQA8lOvNV_story.html
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