BLM proposes change in oil and gas regulation
On July 27, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service announced proposed changes in regulations to improve processing of oil and gas drilling applications while protecting surface owners and public lands resources.
The proposed changes would revise and update existing regulations and help protect the rights of private surface owners on split-estate lands, where the surface is owned by non-federal government parties and the sub-surface minerals are owned by the federal government.
Under the proposed regulations, oil and gas developers would be required to make a good-faith effort to reach an access agreement with surface owners. In cases where an agreement is not reached, developers would be required to obtain a bond that ensures compensation for certain economic losses, as specified by law.
The proposed rule change would also establish a new approval process for multiple oil and gas wells. The process, the master development plan, would make it possible for several related drilling permit applications to be considered in a single environmental analysis, resulting in a more efficient review process. The master development plan is also expected to lead to better planning of oil and gas field development which would help minimize adverse impacts on the land.
In addition, the proposed regulations would encourage oil and gas operators to use best management practices in developing their drilling permit applications. These environmental practices, which reduce surface or visual impacts from oil and gas development, include such actions as drilling several wells from a single well pad, establishing buffer zones to protect wildlife habitat, painting structures and machinery to match vegetation colors, burying powerlines or pipelines under or adjacent to roads and using technology to monitor well production from a remote location, reducing the need to travel to and from well sites.
The proposed regulations would also make clear that the BLM has existing legal authority to require bonding for off-lease facilities that are needed for further development of a lease, such as impoundment ponds that hold water produced from natural gas wells. Such bonding would fund restoration of any off-lease land or water adversely affected by oil and gas activity that occurs on federal leases.
Last week’s publication of the regulatory proposal opens a 30-day public comment period that closes on Aug. 26. Comments can be sent to Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Eastern States Office, 7450 Boston Blvd., Springfield, VA 22153, Attn: RIN 1004-AD59. Comments can also be e-mailed to Comments_washington@blm.gov (include AD59 in the subject line.)
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