Public Issues Committee – August 2001

Title: Public Issues Committee

Author: Larry Anna

Publication: The Outcrop, August 2001, p. 8

A Public Lands Access Forum was chaired by Lee Gerhard, Kansas Geological Survey, at the American Association of Petroleum Geologist’s (AAPG) Annual Meeting (June, 2001) in Denver, Colorado.

Forum panelists were: Jeff Eppink, a petroleum geologist with Advanced Resources International and Principal Investigator for DOE’s Resource Assessment of Forest Service Roadless Area Lands; Rocky Smith, an environmental activist specializing in forest protection management; Diemer True, from True Oil, former Wyoming legislator and Vice President, IPAA; and Victor Yannacone, an attorney specializing in environmental issues. Each panelist was given a few minutes to comment on the public lands access issue, followed by a question and answer period. Comments are summarized below.

Jeff Eppink. Eppink called for clarity in the debate over public lands issues, because the demand for gas is increasing, actual production is lagging, and a stable resource base is important to pricing. He stated that gas reserves in the Rockies are 137 TCF, some of which are off limits to exploration. He described a National Petroleum Council (NPC)/ Department of Energy (DOE) joint project to analyze Federal lands and their impact to resource development, beginning with a test area in the Greater Green River Basin. Because results of the test case were not yet public, he could not share specific information. These results will be posted soon on the internet at wuw.fe.doe.gov. Click on Federal Lands Analysis.

Rocky Smith. Smith called for a renewed effort to conserve energy rather than produce more energy to fill the gap between production and consumption. He encouraged multiple uses of public lands, with restrictions on certain activities. Focusing his comments on the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) management Of public lands, he contended that the USFS cannot manage the numerous roads on USFS lands; therefore, unmanageable roads should not be maintained, and no new roads should be built. Smith said that road-less areas protect non-energy resources, as well as current exploitations of energy, so that energy is available for future generations. Logan MacMillan, a geologist, pointed out during the question and answer period that energy companies are the only federal land users that build, maintain, reclaim: and pay for their own roads.

Diemer True. True noted that the NPC study said that 95% of undiscovered oil and 40% of undiscovered gas is under federal lands. However, 10 TCF of gas is under non-accessible federal lands. He said that if same of the federal lands are restricted, the restrictions should be on a lease basis instead of a geographic basis. True called for the elimination of numerous conflicting land use policies as well as duplicate policies from government agencies.

Victor Yannacone. Yannacone said that the U.S. Government must use fairness to regulate resource management. He contends that regulatory agencies are currently not held accountable for their decisions and actions on environmental policy. The public and energy industry must force them to make fair and just decisions. He encouraged the energy industry to take its message to the media and even into the courts, which is the only way to level the playing field. Currently, the environmental movement holds all the cards in the eyes of the public. The geologic community has no bargaining position. In an emotional plea, Yannacone urged the geologic community to “get with the program.”

Yannacone’s comments can be applied not only to energy, but also to all aspects of geology. We have been talking among ourselves for more years than I can remember (or want to remember) to become more “public”. Have we made progress? Barely! AGI is probably at the forefront of governmental relations for geologists and geological issues. Geologists are carrying the banner of state registration to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Does the public know? Does the public care? As Mr. Yannacone stated, we have no bargaining position in the eyes of the public. We can only change that position by reaching out to the public and to the media. I think the geologic community realizes we need a massive public relations program. But realization and implementation are vastly different. We can’t do it ourselves (we’ve tried that), we can’t do it by hiring recent PR graduates for $20,000 a year, and we can’t do it with an office manager or secretary writing press releases. It needs a long term, consistent, persistent, and professional commitment.