BLM revises onshore public land regulations

The US Bureau of Land Management has published final revised regulations for oil and gas activity on onshore public lands.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar. 13 -- The US Bureau of Land Management has published final revised regulations for oil and gas activity on onshore public lands. The revised rule, effective Apr. 6, establishes requirements all companies must meet to operate on federal and Native American lands, except land held by the Osage Tribe.

The rule updating Onshore Order No. 1 incorporates changes resulting from the 2005 Energy Policy Act (EPACT), the 1987 Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Act, legal opinions, court cases, and changes in policies and procedures since the order was last revised in October 1983, the US Department of the Interior agency said.

Major changes involve procedures for processing drilling permit applications, use of best-management practices in developing leases, and regulations and procedures for operating in split estate situations.

The revised order contains a complete drilling permit application package that establishes as a regulation the definition already commonly used in many BLM field offices, according to the agency. It also codifies the current BLM practice requiring joint on-site inspection by the agency and operator before a drilling permit application is considered complete. In addition, it ensures that drilling permit application processing will take place within the timeframes contained in Section 386 of the 2005 EPACT.

It also codifies the current BLM policy of encouraging lease operators to use best management practices as they develop their leases, clarifying that such practices may be included as conditions for drilling permit approval. The revision reorganizes the order so that permit processing requirements and timeframes now are found in one section because several conditions, policies, procedures, regulations, and requirements have changed since the order was last revised more than 23 years ago, BLM said.

Regulations and procedures used when operating in split estate situations also are clarified in the revision, which requires subsurface leaseholders to make good faith efforts to reach surface access agreements with private surface owners. Where such efforts fail and an agreement cannot be reached, the revised order provides for a bond to be posted against damages to the surface.

In addition, said BLM, the order provides opportunities for private surface owners to participate in on-site inspection meetings. It said this change resulted from comments surface owners made at public hearings in four western cities and Washington, DC, during 2006. Split estate lands where the surface is owned by Native Americans will be subject to the same provisions applying to private surface owners.

The revised order incorporates a 1988 opinion by the DOI solicitor that on split estate lands, BLM must comply with cultural and endangered species regulations in essentially the same manner it uses when the surface is federally owned. A more recent opinion from the solicitor, in 2004, allows clarification in the updated rule that BLM has authority to require bonding for additional off-lease facilities that are necessary to develop a lease, such as impoundments for water produced from coalbed methane wells, the agency said.

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