Land Use Planning and Leasing Reform
Through the planning process the BLM determines what lands will be available for oil and gas leasing, what lease stipulations will be applied to lease parcels prior to leasing to protect other resource values and what “conditions of approval” will be placed on the applications for permit to drill (APDs) to add additional resource protection. The land use planning process, mandated under the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), requires extensive collaboration with local, state and tribal governments, the general public, local user groups and various industries on how the Federal lands will be used.
New oil and gas operations using best management practices typically use fewer than than 5 percent of the surface area of the lease. This leaves the remaining land open for other uses. After oil and gas development is complete, the BLM requires reclamation of the land to return all land to multiple-use. Less than 1 percent of the total acreage managed by the BLM experiences surface disturbance from oil and gas activity.
In order to identify resource conflicts earlier in the leasing process, the BLM instituted three-pronged approach to leasing reform, which includes standardizing lease requirements for consistency and fairness, providing a more thorough lease-sale parcel review process, and analyzing leasing and development areas defined in master leasing plans.
Leasing decisions are analyzed thoroughly in the course of preparing the land management plan/environmental impact statement (EIS), which addresses the cumulative impacts of leasing, exploration, and development. These EISs include: a reasonably foreseeable development scenario for long-term oil and gas development (for example, an estimate of the number of oil and gas wells that might be drilled); a cumulative impact analysis of existing and anticipated oil and gas activity; and lease stipulations that will be attached to each lease to ensure environmental protection.
All leases come with stipulations to protect the environment. They can also include specific restrictions, such as limits on seasons when drilling can occur and restrictions on surface occupancy by oil and gas operators.
The EIS determines the site-specific need for various types of impact-limiting or "mitigation" measures. These measures can include revegetation to curb erosion and the spread of weeds, placement and color of structures and machinery to reduce visual impacts, buffer zones so as not to impact wildlife habitat, and underground placement of powerlines. In addition, many operators routinely use best management practices -- such as remote sensing to monitor well production, which minimizes traffic to the site.
A second level of environmental analysis is conducted at the APD stage for each new oil and gas well. These analyses include:
Site-specific mitigation (environmental protection) measures in the form of “conditions of approval” that are attached to every single permit without exception. These are protection measures in addition to lease stipulations.
- A finding of “significant” or “no significant” impact for each action and/or permit.
- Consultation with other Federal regulatory agencies in accordance with other statutes such as the Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act and others.
- Public notification and/or review.
- Coordination with appropriate local, state, and Federal agencies.
The final result of this multi-layered environmental review is a series of stipulations, conditions of approval, or industry proposals that provide for environmental protection.