Unprecedented Number of Drilling Permits Issued by Feds

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management issued some 4,000 oil and natural-gas drilling permits; this federal fiscal year it’s on track to issue a record 6,000. This startling jump, which BLM geologist Richard Watson called “unprecedented in the history of the BLM,” is due almost entirely, he said, to a rise in oil and gas prices. Enviros aren’t so sure. They remember that Cheney’s 2001 energy task force specifically asked the BLM to find ways to speed the permit process, and that Bush has pushed throughout his presidency to open more land to drilling. They point out that large swaths of already-leased federal land remain untouched. “It appears to us,” said the Wilderness Society’s Bill Beagle, “they’re trying to get as much land under lease now while they can.”