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Interior Department Holds Stakeholder Forum On Federal Oil And Gas Program Review

 Interior Secretary Deb Haaland delivers opening remarks at a forum for the U.S. Department of the Interior's review of its federal oil and gas program on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (screengrab)
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland delivers opening remarks at a forum for the U.S. Department of the Interior's review of its federal oil and gas program on Thursday, March 25, 2021. (screengrab)

The Biden Administration continues its review of the federal oil and gas lease program during a freeze on new lease sales that recently drew protest from Montana political leadership.

The administration held a forum Thursday to hear from stakeholders as part of its program review.

The Department of Interior’s live forum drew around 600 viewers at its busiest, according to a ticker in the forum Zoom window.

Newly appointed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American person to hold the position, kicked off the event.

“Now is the time for all of us to have a frank conversation about the future of our shared resources,” Haaland said.

Haaland is one of the public figures named in a pair of lawsuits filed Wednesday against the Biden Administration for a January executive order that sparked the hold on new oil and gas leases and review of the program.

Montana and Wyoming are among the states arguing that putting new oil and gas leases on standstill deprives state governments of jobs, tax dollars and other forms of revenue.

Haaland during her opening remarks said the review of the oil and gas program will help address the climate crisis and aim to strengthen the nation’s economy.

“The pause in new oil and gas lease sales gives us space to look at the federal fossil fuel programs that haven’t been meaningfully examined or modified in decades,” Haaland said.

Among the forum panelists were academics, oil and gas industry members, Indigenous leaders and environmentalists, who spoke for a few minutes then answered questions from department staff.

Alaska Federation of Natives Executive Vice President Nicole Borromeo called for a balance between environmentalism and development in the energy sector.

“The Alaska Native community refuses to be caught between extraction industries and environmental conservation groups. Our people live comfortably between both,” Borromeo said.

Panelist Frank Macchiarola with the American Petroleum Institute spoke against policies aimed at slowing or stopping natural gas production, and asked for an expedited review of the program.

“Oil and natural gas development on federal lands and waters provide affordable and reliable and cleaner energy, supports millions of good paying job, provides billions of dollars to federal and State Governments and supports conservation efforts across the country,” Macchiarola said.

He and other panelists spoke in favor of developing new technologies to help industry members meet climate goals.

Wendell Hibdon is director of energy and infrastructure with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters.

“To the end of using natural gas, we believe that carbon capture needs to be tested, it needs to be -- demonstration plants need to be created and probably government funded to make sure we can get it going and see if it's feasible, if it is, we have a moral obligation, we feel like, to the American people, for American jobs in the communities to support these industries,” Hibdon said.

Environmental groups welcome the review of the oil and gas program. Several panelists, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthworks, advocated for a comprehensive reform including a permanent stop to activities like new oil and gas leasing and extraction.

The Department of Interior says the information it gathers will help the department write an interim report to be wrapped up in early summer. It’s seeking written comment until Apr. 15.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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