blackouts. Astronomical gas bills. Dramatically higher gasoline
In the United States, a country where the population
has long taken for granted the availability of abundant energy at
reasonable prices, the last few months have been something of a
Of course, all kinds of different issues have arisen
from the energy situation of 2000-2001, but one of the most important
debates certain to get its fair share of attention is access to
public lands for energy resource development.
AAPG will address this important issue during the
annual meeting in Denver. Public lands access will be the topic
of the first joint DPA, EMD and DEG forum set for Monday, June 4
from 3-5 p.m.
Lee Gerhard, principal geologist of the Kansas Geological
Survey, will chair the forum. Speakers will include:
- Jeffrey Eppink, vice president of Advanced Resources International,
a consulting firm in Arlington, Va., that conducts resource assessment
- Victor J. Yannacone Jr., a trial lawyer and environmental attorney
in New York who was one of the founders of the American environmental
- Rocky Smith with Colorado Wild.
- Diemer True, a partner in True Oil Co., Casper, Wyo., and vice
chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Gerhard said the forum panel represents four different
points of view that should give convention delegates insight into
the positions of varying slices of the population.
The forum will tackle issues surrounding supplying
the nation with required resources, and the environmental and esthetic
impacts of resource development.
One important issue that will be addressed is the
national mandate to produce more natural gas while restricting access
to a major portion of the resource base and how a resolution of
this issue could be part of a national energy supply policy.
Gerhard was instrumental in choosing this volatile
topic for the joint forum.
"This is a national issue that's come to the forefront
in the midst of the most hotly contested election in our country's
history and during some very interesting times in the oil patch,"
he said. "A 1999 report by the National Petroleum Council, which
is an advisory body to the Department of Energy, indicates that
vast amounts of potential natural gas resources are locked up on
public lands that are not currently accessible.
"In an era when the demand for natural gas is skyrocketing
due to environmental considerations, it's ironic that important
new gas supplies are inaccessible because of environmental issues."
'Not a Binary Decision'
Jeff Eppink has quite a bit of experience in the
whole issue of access to public lands for resource development.
Eppink was responsible for researching the public
lands access portion of the NPC's 1999 study on natural gas, and
he said there are about 137 trillion cubic feet of potential natural
gas reserves in restricted areas today. Also, last fall his company
examined the oil and gas resources associated with roadless areas
the Clinton administration proposed.
The study indicated that about 80 percent of the
natural gas resources on these lands could be captured by exempting
or adjusting just five percent of the roadless lands.
He presented those findings to administration officials,
but the roadless rule was passed in January. Currently Eppink and
his firm are involved in resource assessments and access to those
resources in a follow-up to the NPC 1999 study.
"I think the nation owes it to itself to make decisions
based on the best information available and not in a vacuum," Eppink
said. "The public needs to know the impact of access restrictions
on resource development -- and then if the nation determines to
keep those resources inaccessible, at least the decision was based
on information about how that decision will impact the marketplace.
"The nation owes it to itself to assess what resources
are on restricted lands before a decision is made," he continued.
"Then, if the ultimate decision is to deny access to these lands,
to be aware that there is a supply consequence to that decision."
Eppink said that "we are witnessing the constraints
of supply in the United States as evidenced by high prices of natural
gas these last few months.
"Part of that is a legacy of the steep downturn in
the energy industry in 1998 and 1999," he said, "but even though
drilling has dramatically increased in the last year and a half
or so we are not seeing a significant production response with respect
to natural gas. Part of the reason for this situation is that we
are probably focused on regions that can't make a significant impact.
"For example, the shallow Gulf of Mexico is experiencing
declining production despite the industry's efforts. So, the implication
is that the industry needs access to richer resources that can make
an impact on the supply picture -- and those regions tend to be
the Rocky Mountains, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National
Eppink pointed out that access is a broad term that
can mean many things.
"When I say access I'm not just talking about physically
being able to lease lands, but also issues of how restrictive leasing
stipulations should be with respect to conducting operations on
those lands," he said. "I do think access is needed, but the nation
will have to debate what level that access should achieve.
"It's not a binary decision -- should there be access
or should there not be access."
The energy industry has made mistakes in its approach
to this issue.
"In the past the public's reaction to the industry's
position is in a binary sense," he said. "From the general public's
perspective, when the industry says 'we would like access,' the
implication is that companies want to drill in Yellowstone. Of course,
that's not true, but the industry needs to do a better job of communicating
In general, the oil industry is seeking access and
fewer restrictions on federal lands that are already multi-use lands.
Eppink believes that more access to these multi-use lands can help
the industry bring to market "the 30 trillion cubic feet of natural
gas the nation's going to need in 2010."
'Just Stop the Waste'
Rocky Smith with Colorado Wild takes a different
"I have been very active in the no new roads issue
for years, and it pains me to see President Bush address the energy
shortage by only focusing on the need for increased supply with
apparently no thought to conservation," Smith said.
"The waste of energy in this country is astounding,"
he added. "I drive a car that gets 35 miles to the gallon and still
gives me the level of safety I need, but the average car on the
road today is not economical. Everyday I am passed by these huge
sport utility vehicles that in the best of circumstances get less
than 20 miles to the gallon -- and the average person doesn't need
that kind of automobile."
He said the forestry service can't manage the road
system under its auspices today, much less adding more roads. The
forestry service has jurisdiction over a road system six or seven
times the size of the interstate highway system.
"There ought to be some areas of this country where
we don't have heavy influence from humans," Smith said. "If you
don't think the influence of humans is tremendous, in 1970 it was
discovered that there was traces of DDT at the North Pole.
"There are wildlife species that need freedom from
frequent human disturbances," he continued. "A good example is wolverines,
which have almost disappeared from Colorado. Also, grizzly bears
need space. When there is a conflict between a bear and humans it's
always the bear that loses."
Smith also said that roads are "pathways for all
sorts of things like weeds, disease and wildlife species that wouldn't
ordinarily migrate into the backcountry.
"One of the biggest issues here in Colorado is competition
for food sources with the lynx, which is on the threatened species
list," he said. "The lynx has big feet and is able to live in the
backcountry. Small footed carnivorous animals like coyote, fox and
bobcats don't typically venture far back in the backcountry in winter
-- but when roads are cut it gives those animals access, and they
compete for food with the lynx."
Smith said we need a national commitment to conserving
energy and eliminating the waste.
"I'm not talking about going back to a primitive
lifestyle," he said. "Just stop the waste and use energy sensibly.
"Until we make this kind of commitment it's difficult
to get behind opening up additional public lands to development,"
"What are we leaving our children and grandchildren
in 30 to 70 years?"
Add next to the mix Diemer True, also a resident
of the Rocky Mountains, who has yet another view.
"If we're going to have a reasonable domestic source
of energy, that's going to require reasonable access to develop
resources on public lands," True said.
He cited "a number of studies" that show the amount
of leasing done on public lands has dropped about 60 percent over
the preceding 10 years. The NPC gas study indicates that access
to a substantial amount of the natural gas resources of the United
States is currently unavailable or severely limited.
"There is so much misunderstanding in the general
population about this issue," he said. "We are not going to conserve
our way out of this supply shortage. The fact is the public has
demonstrated they like their SUVs and air conditioning in the summer."
True agreed with Eppink that much of the access issue
is centered on multi-use lands, not national parks and wilderness
areas. One example he cited is the Powder River Basin, where operators
have been developing an enormous coalbed methane resource.
Companies are currently shipping about 500 million
cubic feet of natural gas a day from this coalbed methane play --
about half of what the industry could be producing if a moratorium
on applications for permit to drill had not been imposed by the
Bureau of Land Management.
In addition, True said that in the court of public
opinion the petroleum industry isn't recognized for the advancements
made in mitigating the environmental impact of operations.
"The industry hasn't done a very good job of promoting
the significant improvements in the area of environmental protection,"
he said. "It's now part of the industry culture to take great care
in minimizing environmental impact, but we are losing in the court
of public opinion -- and public policy will follow public opinion.
"We're not going to convince the public that we can
have responsible access to public lands until they are satisfied
that we will be responsible," he said, "but our detractors never
He added that higher energy prices will have an impact
on public opinion, but the misconception that price hikes are the
fault of price gouging oil companies persists.
"If that kind of rhetoric takes hold we will see
re-regulation of the industry, and then we will become an industry
that doesn't react to the market and increase supply, but an industry
that hunkers down and takes the bunker mentality," he said.
"The question is, how high will prices have to go
before the public changes its view on access to public lands?"
'Find a Common Ground'
Victor Yannacone, a founder of the Environmental
Defense Fund and counsel for Vietnam veterans in the agent orange
case, said he has been an advocate for ecologically sophisticated,
environmentally responsible, socially relevant, economically rational
and politically feasible land use legislation and natural resource
regulation since the 1960s.
He hasn't seen much success.
"The future of industrial civilization depends on
managing the limited amount of prime agricultural soil and resources
we must take from the earth to sustain human civilization," Yannacone
"Unless the broad spectrum of geoscience knowledge
and the record of geologic history as expressed as arable land and
habitable landforms and the rich varied resources that we take from
the earth to create the artifacts of our uniquely human civilization
are managed wisely with a view toward continued evolution of civilization
through succeeding generations, our human civilization today will
suffer the same fate as Mesopotamia, Egypt and other barren lands
of the earth that were once fertile centers of human activity,"
According to Yannacone, the recovery of mineral resources
such as oil and natural gas from environmentally sensitive areas
like the oceans and seas must be accommodated -- but E&P companies
must recognize the fragile environment in which they operate.
"There is no room for carelessness or cavalier disregard
for the rights of generations to come," he said.
"The same is true for mining on land," he continued.
"Landforms exist because of geologic processes that have occurred
over time far longer than human existence. This timeline must be
respected. These minerals exist to support our civilization and
nourish our culture, but the minerals must be taken carefully and
their real value to society recognized.
"The principle problem that earth scientists throughout
the world face is a lack of public awareness and political concern
for the earth as a dynamic general business," he added. "The education
of our children in public schools throughout the world and the education
of adults via the media is substantially lacking in good science
and good government. The political process, which Aristotle called
the highest expression of human activity, has been debased by short-term
considerations to such an extent that good people who have the potential
for becoming great leaders and statesmen shun the political process.
"Earth scientists have to recognize that they must
become part of the political process if there is ever to be a credible
scientific basis for popular legislation."
Yannacone sees the issue of public access to federal
lands -- and other environmental issues -- populated by extremism
on both sides.
"Now that I'm older and wiser," he added, "I think
we must work together to find a common ground."
Gerhard believes that "we have for the first time
in our industry achieved a point of departure, where people have
to make a decision as to what level of environmental preservation,
aesthetics and recreation they need as compared to energy they want
for the style they want."
He said we have the resource base, but we have to
determine whether we have the political will to access that resource
"I think it's an absolutely engaging topic, and the
American people should be engaged in the debate," Gerhard said.
"I think this forum is an opportunity to get the
public involved so they can make up their minds based on real information,"
he added. "We can offer scientific information."