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A Compassionate Way to Streamline Environmental Impact Reviews

In early January, the Trump administration released a bold new proposal to boost the efficiency of American business while preserving the sanctity of the U.S. environment. The initiative would streamline the currently protracted environmental impact review process by shaving as much as fifty percent off the current wait time.

Five Years and Counting

On the first day of January, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new law required the government to conduct an assessment of the potential for adverse environmental impact on any new project taking place on federal lands. Nixon’s goal was to enact legislation that required citizens and businesses alike to stop and think about their actions before plunging ahead with any plans.

In those early days of NEPA, the entire review process took a matter of weeks. Over the years, however, a series of court cases that imposed consistently harsher regulations on the environmental impact process saw it continue to expand beyond control. Today, the average environmental impact review takes more than five years from filing to approval. That’s assuming that things don’t go wrong or that the review office in question isn’t overwhelmed or underfunded. Some environmental review processes can last as long as seven years.

Maintaining an Environmental Commitment

On January 10, roughly 50 years after the legislation became law, the Trump administration suggested trimming the environmental review process down to a maximum of two years. Anti-energy protestors paint the decision as a ‘dangerous move.’ Those inside the industry, however, understand that the environmental review process has become overloaded with bureaucratic bloat. 

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, wrote in a statement, that NEPA, “has become associated with inherent uncertainty, prolonged project delays and stifling of investment.”

Experts, meanwhile, suggest that the environmental impact review process could easily be streamlined. Redundant and outdated procedures abound throughout the environmental impact review process and could be easily eliminated without posing a danger to the environment.

It’s also important to note that “two years” is a suggested goal, not a hard and fast rule. There was no suggestion that NEPA would have any necessary regulations removed, regardless of how much time they added to the overall process.

Iceberg in the Arctic, AWeith/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Arctic 8 and the New Cold War

For most of recorded history, the Arctic has been classified as no man’s land, a sprawling, icy desert inhabited only by creatures built explicitly for the task. In recent decades, however, cutting edge technology and drastic updates in transportation have turned the Arctic from an alien landscape into a potentially viable source of ever-important oil and gas. 

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What Does the US Rig Count Mean for the Oil and Gas Industry?

At noon on Friday, the last day of the work week, Baker Hughes will continue a tradition began in 1944 when they release their weekly US rig count. Week after week, month after month, year after year, this metric is used by journalists, financial experts, and academics as the pulse of the domestic oil and gas industry. 

But what does the Baker Hughes rig count truly measure, and what do its rise and fall mean for the industry at large?

The Baker Hughes Rotary Rig Count

For 75 years, Baker Hughes, an oilfield products and services company owned by GE, has published a weekly count of the nation’s active rotary rigs. 

A rotary rig is the bit of machinery that “rotates the drill pipe from [the surface] to drill a new well (or sidetracking an existing one) to explore for, develop and produce oil or natural gas.” Hughes doesn’t take into account rigs with low production in this number, but the company will include specific non-rotary rigs in the US rig count under certain circumstances.

In other words, Baker Hughes believes the active rig count to be an accurate measurement of the future demand for oilfield products and services. In a very real sense, the US rig count is used by Baker Hughes to indicate how profitable their company (and other oilfield services companies) may be in the future.

Academics also use Baker Hughes’ count as a means to study long-term fluctuations in the industry.

How Important Is the Rig Count, Really?

In today’s oil and gas sector it would be easy to make the mistake of discounting the importance of the US rig count. Advancements in technology and improvements in the efficiency of extraction, for example, have created an industry that can flourish even when rig counts fall. As such, it has become impossible to judge the overall health of the domestic oil and gas industry using the Baker Hughes rig count alone.

In spite of the changes to the oil and gas industry, the US rig count remains a vital measurement, because it measures physical investment. Unlike other metrics which measure potential, the Baker Hughes count represents the genuine faith that investors have in oil and gas.

Simon Fraser University/

Separate the Hype From the Facts in the Fracking Fight

Less than a month away from a pivotal vote in the Colorado elections, the campaign to denigrate hydraulic fracturing is in full swing. As the press parades anecdotal evidence of discontent Coloradans and dubious scientific evidence in voters’ faces, it’s important to remember the facts behind hydraulic fracturing, because this energy extraction process is nowhere near as harmful as its opponents would have you believe. 

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