API, IPAA outline concerns with BLM’s proposed planning rule reforms

The US Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to establish more public involvement opportunities in its resource management planning process could increase uncertainty instead, the American Petroleum Institute and Independent Petroleum Association of America jointly warned. They called on BLM to withdraw the proposed reforms.

The proposal, which BLM announced in February, adds numerous provisions which might create ambiguous standards or otherwise expand the US Department of the Interior agency discretion, API and IPAA said in comments submitted prior to a June 21 US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee hearing on the proposal (OGJ Online, Feb. 15, 2016). Neither trade association was scheduled to testify.

“API and IPAA are concerned that a process redesigned by the Proposed Planning Rule would disfavor multiple use interests, including the development of oil and natural gas resources on public lands, by potentially subjecting each step in the process to a new round of objections by parties committed to opposition of resource development,” the groups said in their comments to the committee’s Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee.

They added that the proposed planning rule violates other federal requirements because BLM has put it forward without engaging in National Environmental Policy Act analysis or completing a Statement of Energy Effects, both of which are required.

The proposal shows a bias against oil and gas interests, API and IPAA charged. They said it would remove the phrase “maximize resource values for the public” from the resource management planning objectives now outlined in federal statutes. The associations consider this “a step that appears to be a thinly veiled effort to bias the planning process against resource extraction.”

API and IPAA noted that while BLM’s proposed objective “recognizes the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands,” as federal statutes required, it “fails to provide any commitment to protecting valid existing mineral rights and interests.” They said, “The proposed planning rule must clearly state that BLM will honor these rights and interests in carrying forward resource management planning.”

Many members hold leases

Many of the two associations’ member companies hold valid existing leases and are interested in future oil and gas leasing, exploration, and production in areas that will be directly affected by BLM’s management decisions. “These companies are also dedicated to meeting environmental requirements, while economically developing and supplying affordable energy to consumers,” API and IPAA added.

They noted that while BLM concedes that “mineral exploration and production” are “principal or major uses” under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), changes in the proposed planning rule would dilute the value of such congressionally designated uses by placing them into a newly concocted basket of goods and services including such vague terms as “ecosystem services.”

The groups said, “Specific programs like oil and gas development, which are facilitated by FLPMA, must not be excluded, delayed, or obstructed in favor of vague objectives.”

They said if BLM intends to develop a new rule to revise its resource management planning process, it should do so only when the agency has completed its work on the supporting policies, guidance documents, and other tools discussed in the proposed planning rule that have not yet been prepared or published.

“The regulated community and the public need to understand how the different elements of BLM’s resource management process will work as a coherent whole, and fulfill the statutory mandate of FLPMA that America’s public lands be managed under the principle of multiple use and sustained yield—and in a manner that does not close off access to the resources that a robust national economy will continue to require,” API and IPAA said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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