Jewell outlines administration’s plans for energy on public lands

WASHINGTON — America’s public lands should be enlisted in the fight against climate change even as they sustain conventional oil and gas development, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.

“I am determined to help make energy development safer and more environmentally sound in the next two years,” Jewell said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

“Helping our nation cut carbon pollution should inform our decisions about where we develop, how we develop and what we develop,” she added. “New energy development should be matched with new protections for lands and waters.”

The speech — coming nearly two years into Jewell’s tenure as Interior Secretary — offered the first, deep look at her philosophy as manager of the nation’s federal and Indian land portfolio, and revealed her plans to put climate change and environmental issues front and center during the final two years of the Obama administration.

Jewell outlined a broad and aggressive regulatory agenda aimed at oil and gas development on public lands and waters — with mandates on the horizon to curb venting and flaring, regulate hydraulic fracturing and boost the power of blowout preventers safeguarding offshore wells.

The Bureau of Land Management is set to finalize its rule for hydraulic fracturing on public lands — including requirements for chemical disclosure and water management at the sites — “in the coming days,” Jewell said.

The bureau is also on track to propose regulations “in the coming months” that will limit methane emissions from wells on public lands — by clamping down on the practice of venting and flaring. Methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas believed to be 28 to 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere.

Many of the Interior Department’s regulations are outdated and “haven’t kept pace with advances in technology,” Jewell noted, stressing that updates are critical to keeping the public on board as energy companies use hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to unleash oil and gas across the nation.

“Effective regulations and independent oversight of energy development not only help minimize risk, but are key to building the public confidence necessary to sustain our energy revolution,” she said.