Local regulation of oil and gas drilling was thrust into the spotlight this election when Longmont, Colorado banned drilling within its city limits. The decision was closely watched by the energy industry because of its implications for other communities across the country.
As the head of the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group against the ban put it, “We can’t afford that particular issue to get out of the barn at Longmont.”
Which is why recent comments from Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) are noteworthy. Landrieu, one of the biggest drilling advocates in Congress, has taken $940,174 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1996. However, at a forum sponsored by America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Landrieu said that the industry should respect local communities and understand that some places should be set off-limits to drilling:
There should be drilling zones and non-drilling zones. Just because, you know, if there was gold in the National Mall, the largest gold mine in the world, we would not allow mining in the Mall. So sometimes I think the industry—as much as I’m an advocate for it—can get a little over its heels on this.
I don’t know what, again, the issues are, but I would not be so quick to condemn that town for making that decision. Although I realize the governor’s made a statement, and this and that. But I think we do have to be sensitive to local land use issues. And if we all find that balance—there’s plenty of land, trust me, in the United States of America. There are plenty of places that you can drill, you don’t have to drill on every square inch of land in every situation. And I think we have to be a lot smarter about where we drill, how we drill.
Landrieu’s comments seem like common sense. But the oil and gas industry has shown that it will stop at nothing to access as many places as possible for drilling, in spite of impacts on public health and the environment.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, for instance, has opposed new regulations that require public hearings to be held before oil wells are drilled within 750 feet of schools and hospitals. And the industry slammed the administration for standing in the way of oil and gas development on public lands, despite the fact that it is sitting on 7,000 leases that it hasn’t even begun exploring or drilling on yet.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.