Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Five Years After Oil and Gas Debacle in Utah, the Bureau of Land Management Is at a Turning Point
Press Release

RELEASE: Five Years After Oil and Gas Debacle in Utah, the Bureau of Land Management Is at a Turning Point

Washington, D.C. — Five years ago this week, a controversial decision by the Bush administration to lease lands near national parks in Utah for oil and gas drilling sparked a firestorm of public opposition and prompted the incoming Obama administration to undertake an aggressive agenda to clean up and reform the Bureau of Land Management’s, or BLM’s, oil and gas leasing program.

A new report released today by the Center for American Progress presents new public opinion research that provides greater detail on Americans’ current priorities for their public lands and helps explain why the Utah leasing debacle in 2008 provoked such an outcry. This innovative study is one of the first to compare voters’ priorities for their public lands across the country, not just in the West. In particular, the research—conducted by Hart Research Associates through interviews with more than 1,000 voters across the country—found that Americans now overwhelmingly value conservation and recreation on public lands above other uses.

“Two pillars define what is at stake for public lands for voters across the country: permanently protecting public lands for future generations and ensuring access to recreational activities,” the researchers from Hart concluded. These priorities were most strongly felt in the West, where 74 percent of voters say that the permanent protection of public lands is very important to them and 65 percent say that ensuring recreational access is very important. In contrast, only 27 percent of voters nationally say that ensuring that public lands are available to oil and gas development is a high priority.

The report from the Center for American Progress also finds that the Obama administration’s oil and gas leasing reforms will reach their most critical milestones yet in 2014. The brief identifies the following six areas to watch, which together will demonstrate the extent to which these reforms will result in meaningful and lasting changes in priorities, values, and decision making within the BLM, the nation’s largest land-management agency:

  • The creation of Master Leasing Plans to guide drilling to the right places
  • The revision of Resource Management Plans on 140 million acres of public land
  • The progress of environmental protection rules for oil and gas extraction
  • The development of a strong new policy to mitigate the impacts of oil and gas drilling
  • The restoration of balance between oil and gas leasing and the permanent protection of public lands
  • The protection of sage brush habitat to alleviate drilling impacts on wildlife

“The 2008 oil and gas debacle in Utah showed that the old system of leasing first and looking later was bad for everyone: It fueled conflict, uncertainty, and poor decisions,” said Matt Lee-Ashley, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the analysis. “If the Obama administration and the BLM put the public’s priorities for public lands front and center in 2014, it will complete a remarkable turnaround for the agency and mark a signature achievement for the president’s reform agenda.”

The public opinion research released today was part of a survey that also assessed the public’s views of the government shutdown and of ongoing budget cuts to national parks and public lands. Earlier this year, CAP also commissioned a study of public opinion in the West on energy and public lands issues in the region.

Read the analysis: A Turning Point for the Bureau of Land Management by Matt Lee-Ashley and Jessica Goad

Related resources:

For more information, contact Anne Shoup at ashoup@americanprogress.org or 202.481.7146.

###