Energy:

Actions Needed To Increase Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Exploration and Development

EMD-81-40: Published: Feb 11, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 11, 1981.

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The use of federal lands for fossil fuels exploration has become an important issue. Managing these lands involves difficult trade-offs between the often conflicting issues of development, conservation, and environmental protection. An examination was performed on how the exploration and development of oil and gas from federal lands could be accelerated.

GAO found that the use of federal lands for fossil fuels exploration and development is hampered by: (1) the unavailability for leasing of prospectively valuable federal oil and gas lands; (2) the imposition of stipulations on leases which restrict exploration and development; and (3) lengthy delays in the approval of federal leases and drilling permits. GAO determined that the first two of these issues are more significant due to the indefinite duration of actions which have closed lands, the severity of stipulations on leases, the large acreages involved, and their substantial oil and gas potential.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not acted on this recommendation in the 5 years since it was issued.

    Matter: Congress should determine whether it wishes to be excluded from the review and possible disapproval of decisions to close lands to mineral leasing. If not, Congress should amend section 202(e) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to provide that the management decisions closing lands to mineral leasing and affecting smaller sized tracts should be reported to Congress. Section 202(e) should be further amended to require that the Department of the Interior submit, with each report to Congress, the minerals report described in section 204(c)(2) for withdrawals and any other information required in section 204(c)(2) which Congress considers appropriate. Congress should also amend section 3 of the Engle Act so that the withdrawal information for military applications conforms with the Land Policy and Management Act's section 204(c)(2) requirements for mineral analyses.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should formulate a minerals policy, consistent with current national energy needs and evaluations of oil and gas potential on affected lands, that will provide guidance to the military services in making installations available to leasing.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to: (1) change its guidelines implementing the Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to defer the requirement for environmental assessments for oil and gas activities until surface disturbance is proposed; (2) establish standard timeframes for completion of lease processing; (3) work with surface management agencies to develop cooperative agreements and goals for lease processing; and (4) develop a standard follow-up system for tracking outstanding lease applications. The Secretary should direct the Geological Survey to: (1) clearly state in its guidelines what the operator is required to submit; (2) review drilling permit applications and notify an applicant within 7 days of the filing date if his application is incomplete; (3) develop standard procedures for tracking and recording actions; and (4) coordinate with operators so that they have an archaeologist available during joint-site inspections.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA has nearly completed its work to satisfy this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should direct the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), respectively, to establish standards and criteria for the use of restrictive stipulations, such as surface disturbance and no surface occupancy restrictions. Leasable lands should then be inventoried to determine the extent of the use of such stipulations and to verify if the stipulation use meets the standards and criteria. Stipulation uses which are determined to be unjustified should be removed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior developed and implemented changes as required by this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior should direct the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), respectively, to establish standards and criteria for the use of restrictive stipulations, such as surface disturbance and no surface occupancy restrictions. Leasable lands should then be inventoried to determine the extent of the use of such stipulations and to verify if the stipulation use meets the standards and criteria. Stipulation uses which are determined to be unjustified should be removed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should: (1) establish criteria upon which no leasing decisions must be based and also require BLM to maintain records of no leasing decisions adequate enough to permit periodic congressional oversight; (2) require BLM to inventory lands which have been closed by management decision to oil and gas leasing, and then retain closure only to the extent it can demonstrate that a continuation of the decision not to lease is based on the criteria defined above; (3) direct BLM to give priority to evaluating the pre-Environmental Policy Act of 1969 Defense withdrawals under the BLM withdrawal review program; (4) direct the Geological Survey to review the oil and gas potential of the Fish and Wildlife Service's refuges in the lower 48 states; (5) direct BLM to develop a withdrawal review program to include the remaining 38 states; and (6) direct BLM to inventory and justify lands withheld from the simultaneous leasing system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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