If the Environmentalists Had Their Way …

By April 11, 2008Energy, Global Warming

The U.S. Forest Service has released new rules to govern the development of management plans for the federal lands the government agency controls. Environmental activists are outraged and accusing the Administration of bad faith. Well, of course they are. (New York Times story; Associated Press story.)

With the new U.S. Geological Survey study out about the 4.3 billion barrels of oil that may lie in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota, we’re reminded of another controversy in which outraged environmental groups denounced the U.S. Forest Service. Back in the late ’90s, the Forest Service proposed a 10-year management plan for the Dakota Prairie National Grasslands, a plan that would have significantly restricted existing ranching operations and future energy development on these federal lands in western North Dakota. (Not pristine land, we note; much had been settled and farmed at some point and then abandoned in the Dust Bowl years.)

The plan satisfied no one, as these plans tend to do. Ranchers legitimately saw an attack on their way of life, and the oil and gas industry protested the increased costs to develop existing claims and the blocking of vast acreage to any future energy use.

Meanwhile, national environmental groups like the Sierra Club were horrified, saying the plan did almost nothing to protect the unique resources — always unique — and crown jewel of this and that. More restrictions! More limits! No development! Above all, more wilderness designations!

No one was satified with the final management plan, naturally. Nevertheless, the energy sector appeared to have reached a modus vivendi with the federal management plan, and oil and gas development continues on the federal land in Western North Dakota — environmentally sensitive, heavily regulated and monitored development, but the energy can still be accessed.

Underneath much of the western portion of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands is the Bakken Formation, confirmed yesterday by the U.S. Geological Survey as a resource of tremendous potential — the largest continuous oil accumulation ever assessed by the USGS.

And if the environmentalists had had their way when the Forest Service developed its national grasslands management plan, much of that Bakken resource would be off-limits — blocked from development or made prohibitively expensive, prevented from being part of the solution to America’s energy needs. The investment into accessing Bakken oil would have gone to Kamchatka, Kazakhstan or Angola — if anywhere.

The grasslands history and the Bakken Formation’s tremendous potential make it clear that the goals of the mainstream environmental movement cannot be reconciled with achieving energy security, that is, real, economical energy security, as opposed to the magical, mystical, utopian kind.


  • Jamestown Sun story, “Oil study released.”
  • Great Falls Tribune story, “Bakken Formation oil field has up to 4.3 billion barrels.”
  • New York Times story, “Billions of Barrels of Oil May Lie Under Northern Plains.”
  • Bismarck Tribune story, “Bakken reserve largest in lower 48.”
  • The USGS survey did not include the portions of the Bakken in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

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