The trend in government today is shifting agency policies from those of a "gate keeper" to a position of enabler.
Oregon's Gov. Ted Kulongoski has directed the Department f Land Conservation and Development to quit playing "gotcha" with local government and find ways to make economic development work.
That same spirit at the federal level is changing the way agencies look at exploration for oil, gas, coal or geothermal on the land under federal control.
The Bureau of Land Management assigns leases regardless if the federal land is under BLM protection or belongs to the U.S. Forest Service or the military.
Recent news that upwards of 80 percent of the existing leases for oil or gas are not producing is being used to argue against expanding leases into other public lands.
The facts don't support the argument.
Bob Fujimoto is the U.S. Forest Service's Minerals Lease Group Leader in Oregon. Before that he worked for the BLM, and before that in the private sector exploring for oil and gas deposits.
When Fujimoto was mapping possible deposits and selling those maps to oil and gas companies in the 70s, the rule of thumb was that one in 10 such sites would actually produce.
In the case of exploring on federal property, if 20 percent of the leases are producing, that's twice as good as those old days. Fujimoto said that didn't surprise him because OF technological advances.
And even if 80 percent of the leases granted to develop minerals on public lands never produce oil or gas, they do produce revenue to the agencies and states.
Anyone can explore for deposits. It's development that requires a lease, and the leases cost $2.50 an acre and last for 10 years. Fujimoto said the typical lease is four sections or 2,560 acres; the 10-year lease payment is $64,000. The payments are split equally between the agency in charge of the federal property and the state in which the property is found.
That is just the dry leases. If there's actual production, the agency and state will split a royalty on ever barrel or cubic foot produced. Usually about 12.5 percent.
But even though the agencies are being urged to be open minded about leasing, the process is anything but threatening to "environmentally sensitive" public lands.
Each federal property is currently undergoing a revised management plan. The Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman and Malheur forests are starting their update this year. The last time this was looked at in the area forests was the mid '90s.
That review established what the forest service calls "assumptions" regarding mineral development and leasing. It prohibited leases that infringed on areas bearing wilderness or wild designations as well as even seasonally sensitive areas such as winter yards for elk or nesting areas.
Those assumptions opened up large areas of the Umatilla and Malheur forests for exploring, but there has been no interest to date.
If an application to explore came in, the service would then narrow its research to the designated exploration area. If the explorers came back with a proposal to develop, the magnifying glass would focus on the two or three acres actually impacted by the development.
This is not an open door to rape and pillage national ground. It is a realistic opportunity for developing national resources.
Muddying this issue for many is a lack of trust in the current administration's links to the oil and gas industry.
But more than political expediency weighs in on this issue. For example, there have been gas deposits found in the Columbia Basin in Washington, but, because there is no existing pipeline for transporting the gas, the economics have stopped development. This spring there were lease sales in BLM and Washington forests in the basin that drew a great deal of attention.
Fujimoto and others expect that interest in gas and oil spurred by current prices will bring renewed interest to the Northwest. They're just as certain that this will be a topic of debate between preservationists and developers.
The rest of us will count on professionals such as Fujimoto to maintain the balance that is really in our best interest.