Friday, October 7, 2011

A Growing Energy Focus for DOI

Press reports released this week suggest that the Department of the Interior will soon issue rules that govern hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil on federal lands.  This follows a DOI announcement last year that it would develop best management practices for fracturing.  The pending issuance of fracturing rules is just one of a number of recent DOI actions that highlight Interior's expanding involvement in energy issues. 

Although the DOI has long addressed a range of energy issues through its involvement in onshore and offshore oil and gas leases on federal lands, for example, the rise in proposals to develop alternative energy projects on these lands has pushed the DOI into new territory, and the Department seems to have gladly accepted this role.  Its home page advertises in bright letters: "Our Mission:  Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future," and another DOI link boasts: "Under the leadership of Secretary Ken Salazar, we are creating a new energy frontier – one that responsibly develops not only conventional but also renewable resources on our nation’s public lands." The following are examples of recent DOI activities that reflect this growing energy focus, both on cleaning up conventional energy (perhaps I should say "cleaning up," depending on one's faith in revised drilling rules), and on supporting renewable energy:

--Secretary Salazar will deliver the keynote address at the American Wind Energy Association's Offshore WINDPOWER 2011 conference next week in Baltimore.

--In May, the DOI and the U.S. Department of Agriculture published New Energy Frontiers, a report to Congress that described the agencies' approaches to "rais[ing] the bar for safety and environmental responsibility" in oil and gas production--which some have argued are inadequate--and to developing a "renewable energy strategy." 

--In April, the BLM held forums on hydraulic fracturing in Arkansas, Colorado, and North Dakota to discuss best management practices.  The DOI hosted a similar forum in Washington, DC

--The Department of Energy and the DOI have issued a "National Offshore Wind Strategy" aimed at "creating an offshore wind energy industry in the United States."

--In 2010, Secretary Salazar approved the Cape Wind offshore wind project, which will include some mitigation measures to respond to concerns voiced by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and Native American tribes. 

--Secretary Salazar has approved solar projects and associated transmission for solar energy on federal lands, and the DOI has participated in preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for utility-scale solar on federal lands. 

--The Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing to work on its Revised Draft Voluntary Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines

No matter one's perspective on the adequacy of these measures--both in terms of moving us toward well-managed renewable energy and cleaning up nonrenewable sources--we can perhaps at least agree that DOI is trying. 

-Hannah Wiseman

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