Dept. Interior Finalizes Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms

On May 17, 2010 the Department of Interior announced finalized oil and gas leasing reforms for BLM managed sub-surface lands.   This means the policy applies to leasing of federal minerals under land surfaces managed by BLM, state surface lands, and private land surfaces.   See the Department of Interior press release below.

CWF issued a press advisory, stating: “The Department of Interior policy on oil and gas leasing issued today is an important and long-needed step to balance key needs of Colorado’s wildlife before offering BLM lands for lease sales.  Of particular note is the concept of a “master leasing plan” that will factor in the needs of  wildlife (and other resource issues) before BLM determines whether an area will be offered for lease.  For too long, we have been forced to submit protests in an attempt to avoid detrimental cumulative impacts when it comes to energy development, reducing the important habitat areas our wildlife needs to survive.  This federal stewardship action, coupled with Colorado’s own rules to protect wildlife habitat during energy development, means our wildlife heritage can survive.”

*WASHINGTON, D.C. –* As part of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s
ongoing agenda to change how the Department of the Interior does business,
the Bureau of Land Management today finalized several reforms to its oil and
gas program that will improve environmental protection of important natural
resources on U.S. public lands while aiding in the orderly leasing and
balanced development of the nation’s energy supply.

œWe must continue to move forward quickly and responsibly on our agenda to
reform the management of our nation’s onshore and offshore energy resources
and our oversight of the companies that develop them, said Secretary
Salazar. œThe BLM reforms we are finalizing today establish a more orderly,
open, and environmentally sound process for developing oil and gas resources
on public lands. The BP oil spill is a stark reminder of how we must
continue to push ahead with the reforms we have been working on and which we
know are needed.

œThese reforms take a fresh look – from inside the Federal government and
from outside – at how we can better manage Americans’ energy resources,
said BLM Director Bob Abbey. œThey will improve protections for land,
water, and wildlife, and reduce potential conflicts that can lead to costly
and time-consuming protests and litigation of leases. The reforms will also
move control of the leasing process from Washington, DC, to the field.

Under the reformed oil and gas leasing
the BLM will:

· Engage the public in the development of Master Leasing Plans (MLP)
prior to leasing in certain areas where significant new oil and gas
development is anticipated. The intent is to fully consider other important
natural resource values before making a decision on leasing and development
in an area.

� Ensure potential lease sales are fully coordinated both
internally and externally, including public participation, and
interdisciplinary review of available information, as well as on-
site visits to parcels prior to leasing when necessary to supplement or
validate existing data.

· Require an œextraordinary circumstances review screen before
applying the categorical exclusions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to oil
and gas drilling activities on BLM lands. Categorical exclusions are
categories of actions that do not have a significant effect on the quality
of the human environment, and for which the BLM is generally not required to
prepare extensive environmental reviews. A review for extraordinary
circumstances has been required for all administratively-established
categorical exclusions, and will now apply to oil and gas categorical
exclusions established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as well.

In January, Secretary Salazar outlined the
BLM is finalizing today. Many of the reforms follow the
recommendations of an interdisciplinary review
studied a controversial 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah.

Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more
thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the
number of protests filed, as well as enhance the BLM’s ability to resolve
protests prior to lease sales.

œThe consequence of not following this front-loaded process in the past has
been significant protests and appeals, coupled with judicial restraints on
development, job loss, and diminished access to energy resources, said
Abbey. œInstead of the BLM investing vast amounts of staff time and
attention to defending lawsuits and revisiting the leasing process after
receiving direction from the courts, our goal is to undertake important
reviews in advance.

The BLM manages 253 million acres – more land than any other Federal agency.
This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily
located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM, with a budget of
about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral
estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain
the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of
present and future generations. The BLM accomplishes this by managing such
activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development,
and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and
other resources on public lands.


Note: Later in the day, BLM posted on its website, Instructional Memorandum No. 2010-117
“Oil and Gas Leasing Reform — Land Use Planning and Lease Parcel Reviews”
and Instructional Memorandum No. 2010-118 “Energy Policy Act Section 390
Categorical Exclusion Policy Revision.”