Land Use Planning and NEPA Compliance for Oil and Gas Leasing

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 may describe possible “conditions of approval” to be placed on the applications for permit to drill (APDs) for 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 and protected during both the landscape level cumulative and site-specific NEPA processes.  Explore the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) website for laws and regulations and Resource Management Planning regulations and terminology.  Click on the link to learn more about BLM Land Use Planning. Click on the link to learn more about BLM NEPA documents. To find a proposal and its associated NEPA document use the BLM National NEPA Register.  

Land with oil and gas leases are available for other multiple-use purposes. After oil and gas development is complete, the BLM requires reclamation of the land to return all land to multiple-use.

Reducing Impacts  

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.  Additional programmatic NEPA, is conducted when proponents have large projects involving hundreds or thousands of wells over 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years, depending on market condition.  These large volumes of wells are analyzed cumulatively for impacts of all resources and values and landscape level mitigation is determined.

Stipulations may 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 and flowlines to central processing facilities, which minimizes traffic to wells.

Site Specific Analysis  

Another 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.

Some wells are approved under the Energy Policy Act authority to use Categorical Exclusion (CX 390) if explicit criteria is meet, which is located in Appendix 2 – page 141 of the NEPA Handbook H-1790-1:

The final result of this multi-layered environmental review is a series of stipulations, conditions of approval, or industry proposals that provide for cumulative landscape level and site-specific environmental protection.