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No More Shortcuts: Congress Must Act to Make Drilling Safer

The ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf shows what can go wrong when measures to prevent accidents are absent or ignored -- and when there is lack of responsible and essential oversight of oil and gas activity.
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The ongoing oil-induced catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico shows what can go wrong when measures to prevent accidents are absent or ignored -- and when there is lack of responsible and essential oversight of oil and gas activity.

As an employee at the Forest Service for 22 years, my job required that I carefully balance various uses of land and water so that the vital interests of this and future generations were protected. My job depended on having the necessary staff and resources to achieve that, as well as the dedication to do it right.

In the West, clean air and water are critical environmental and public health issues. But they also form the lifeblood of much of our economy -- thousands of jobs depend on pure water, healthy wildlife and robust landscapes. Yet we find repeated abuse of the very land that proffers those benefits.

Thousands of spills from onshore drilling operations have released millions of gallons of oil and gas, as well as production toxins and wastewater, into our waterways and onto our landscapes. Some of that pollution has never been cleaned up and the effects never fully calculated.

Safe drilling operations require that companies have proper precautions and safety plans in place but also that governing agencies have the resources they need to inspect and regulate those operations. Oil and gas companies have demonstrated that it is unwise to let them police themselves - there must be appropriate independent oversight of drilling operations both off-shore and on.

On public lands in particular, all natural resource decisions are social decisions. We may look to science for guidance but the real driver of these decisions is the people who live, work, play and depend on the land.

As serene and special as some of our public lands remain, there is a long history of imbalance in energy development on many of our lands as well as in our coastal waters. Congress now has an opportunity to re-establish this balance through passage of the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act currently being considered.

The environmental shortcuts that have allowed inappropriate drilling need to be eliminated so that each lease is fully and technically evaluated prior to approval.

Proven practices that reduce spills and accidents must be required operating procedures, not just voluntary as they currently are. And we taxpayers deserve a fair return on our investment. If we are being asked to accept the risks involved in drilling, we should also be able to insist on prudent, responsible measures as assurance that those risks are minimized. We owe our children a clean and safe future, not land and water destroyed because of shortcuts and easy money.

It's essential to pass the CLEAR Act with measures to make drilling on our public lands safer, as well as provisions that protect both our coastal and inland waters, air and wildlife. Members of Congress should avidly support this essential Act for better management of oil and gas drilling both on and off-shore; we deserve nothing less for our national natural heritage.

The BP spill has been an unfortunate reminder of the disasters that can occur with lack of oversight, a cavalier attitude, and dangerous shortcuts. We know what we need to do and now Congress needs to act.

Gloria Flora became nationally known in her 22-year career with the U.S. Forest Service for her leadership in ecosystem management and for her courageous decisions regarding oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain Front. In 2001, she founded and now directs Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, an organization dedicated to the sustainability of public lands and of the plants, animals and communities that depend on them.

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