We can't find the resources if we can't get there, says the industry.
You can't get there just because you want to, say environmental activists.
A panel of players on both sides of the question shared their viewpoints at the AAPG Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City at the Governmental Affairs Forum on Public Lands Access in the Rocky Mountains.
Both sides agree on one thing -- there is energy to be tapped for the country on Federal Lands.
Diemer True, president of True Oil in Casper, Wyo., spoke of the need to explore for oil and gas on public lands, but noted the dichotomy of the public's view of access. In showing an image of the electric usage of the United States at night, he pointed that "the lights are where the voters are. The dark is where we produce."
The public, he said, demands plentiful, cheap energy, but has little concern or knowledge about where it comes from and how.
True, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that "our problem is not a lack of resources. Our problem is public relations."
Dru Brower, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, noted specific instances of regulatory blockage to exploration projects. One instance cited a letter from a Bureau of Land Management bureaucrat that placed 622,000 acres in southwest Wyoming off-limits due to "roaming rights" for wild horses and desert elk herds -- both of which are acknowledged to be overpopulated in the area. Exploration permits are sought for only 12 percent of the 622,000 acres.
"Minerals are where they are -- we can't move them," she said.
"Eighty to 90 percent of the resource development plans have been protested or taken to court," she added, "raising costs and taking three to seven years of regulatory wrangling."
When it comes to regulations and burdens on the industry, "I think that is as it should be," said Steve Block, lawyer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental concerns group. "When it comes to public lands, the key word is 'public,'" he said. "It is not a right -- it's a privilege to explore and extract resources from these lands.
"It is a myth that conservationists are out to stop all forms of oil and gas development," he said. "We are looking to strike a balance.
"There is a literal explosion (sic) of exploration in the Uinta Basin," he said, "and the activity hasn't been protested by the SUWA or any other group."
He said protests are filed to ensure that activities in sensitive areas are in compliance with federal laws.
Block gave some advice to explorers.
- "I like to think we are approachable," Block said. "Come in and talk to us" during the planning stages before filing with the BLM. "It will save time, headache and heartache -- and in some instances we'll be able to work out our differences."
- Hire a responsible contractor.
- Be prepared to be flexible. "It's hard to swallow that a project has to be done just a certain way," he said.
AAPG member Victor Yannacone, environmental advocate and attorney, took the environmental lobby in general to task, noting "public lands belong to the people," as do the minerals that lie in the earth. He attacked the notion that "public lands exist solely as scenic vistas, and their principal use is for the playgrounds of the rich and powerful."
He told the audience that in his years as an environmental advocate and founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, that "talking" about access issues over the past 30 years has produced little.
"Talking only is productive when both parties have equal standing, he said.
Yannacone said there is one place where both parties can "talk" on an equal basis -- "it's in the courtroom," he said with emphasis.
Yannacone urged the audience, comprised of mainly geologists, to go on the offensive.
"They are suing you," he said. "It's time to litigate legitimate, real issues."