Gas drilling limited by equipment, workers — not access to federal land

To hear the Bush administration tell it, domestic energy production is limited by lack of access to federal lands. Vice President Dick Cheney is galled that “large parts of the Rocky Mountain West are off-limits.” But according to government records, industry experts, and local officials, there’s plenty of access for gas drilling. In fact, there’s so much access that there’s not enough person-power and equipment to keep up with it. The Bureau of Land Management issued a record number of gas-drilling permits last year, outnumbering the available drilling rigs and qualified workers. And industry officials don’t expect to catch up anytime soon, as it can take a year or more for delivery of new rigs. Even as new training schools open up, energy companies have asked for some 5,000 new workers over the next five years just to fulfill current leases. The apparent disconnect between Bush policy — more access! — and, well, the truth has left some energy analysts puzzled.