Western Drilling Leaves Wildlife Hole

Elk are on the decline as the government allows more drilling on western land.© U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Two nonprofits, the Environmental Working Group and the National Wildlife Federation, released a report last week detailing how increased oil and gas drilling on western lands is decimating wildlife habitat while limiting opportunities for hunters. The groups say that populations of pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk and sage grouse are already starting to suffer as a result of the federal government doubling the amount of drilling allowed on federal lands across Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico over the past decade.

"What we’ve seen is runaway drilling on many of our public lands that has turned these areas into industrial zones where hunters and wildlife are pushed out," says Dusty Horwitt of the Environmental Working Group. Horwitt cites studies showing that sage grouse and mule deer numbers have declined in recent years in areas of intensive oil and gas drilling in Wyoming and Montana.

For their part, federal officials attribute the undisputed increase in drilling to rising global demand for oil and gas, not a White House plan to decimate public lands. According to Celia Boddington, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management that oversees the majority of the acreage where the new drilling is taking place, the federal government now requires lengthy environmental reviews and the institution of long-term restoration plans before approving any development on its lands. "When we lease land now, it’s very, very different from the drilling of wells even a decade ago," she added.

Environmentalists aren’t the only ones concerned about increased development on public lands. Last month Democrats in Congress held hearings to highlight the environmental toll of more drilling, and the 19-state Western Governors Association has been lobbying the Bush administration to end controversial automatic waivers of some environmental reviews on certain projects.

Source: Environmental Working Group