- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

instead of hitting them with a hammer,” said Bob Bennett, the bureau’s Wyoming director. When Anadarko Petroleum of Houston asked for a two-year extension to get back into compliance after a 2000 merger with Union Pacific Resources put it over the limit in Wyoming, the bureau said yes. That was the case, too, for a 2002 request by Encana Oil and Gas of Canada. In the first 15 months of Anadarko’s extension, the company acquired 70 new leases in Wyoming totaling more than 100,000 acres. A year after granting Encana an extension, the bureau allowed Encana to acquire two new leases totaling more than 2,000 acres in the state. Anadarko relinquished 50 of its leases to meet an April 30 deadline to get back under the acreage cap, Mr. Lonnie said. Encana has until October to comply. Four other companies that had gone over the cap in Wyoming since 1997 are now in compliance. Bureau officials say they have to rely on companies to provide accurate accounts of their holdings because the agency’s computerized records do not track transfers of lease operating rights or the ownership of divided shares of leases. The lax enforcement coincides with the Bush administration’s push to open new public lands for oil and gas development. In March, bureau records showed 40 million acres of federal lands were under lease in the continental United States. That is 5.3 million more acres than when President Bush took office. Companies and people who dominate federal oil and gas leasing have been major financial supporters of Mr. Bush and the Republican Party. Since 1999, the top 25 owners of federal oil and gas leases have directed 86 percent of their $8.2 million in donations to the GOP. Individuals and companies affiliated with the Yates family of Artesia, N.M., which is by far the biggest leaseholder, have given $276,926 to the GOP and to Republican candidates since 1999, and $11,400 to Democrats. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Artesia in March to raise money for a Republican congressional candidate backed by the Yates family. A month earlier, he was in Albuquerque, N.M., for a presidential campaign fund-raiser that took in more than $200,000. Denver-based Tom Brown Inc. was over the acreage limit in Wyoming from 1997 to 2000, while Mr. Evans was the company’s chief executive. As Mr. Bush’s campaign chairman, Mr. Evans raised millions of dollars from the oil industry for the winning 2000 campaign. When he resigned at Tom Brown before joining the Cabinet in 2001, Mr. Evans received a retirement package worth more than $5 million. Encana, which the government says has exceeded the acreage limit since 2002, announced plans last month to acquire Tom Brown. The merger would join two of the top three federal oil- and gas-lease owners. Environmental groups contend the administration is rewarding its financial backers by ignoring the acreage law while pushing more public lands into development. “It’s clear from the data that there is no reason for the Bush administration to issue leases on America’s last remaining wild public lands, other than as a favor to their most generous political patrons,” said Dave Alberswerth, public lands director for the Wilderness Society. Mr. Lonnie, the BLM’s assistant director, said administration officials have left enforcement of the acreage law to bureau officials in the states. He said agency officials are following the same policies they used in the Clinton administration.

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