Federal Land Management:

Better Oil and Gas Information Needed to Support Land Use Decisions

RCED-90-71: Published: Jun 27, 1990. Publicly Released: Jul 3, 1990.

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GAO analyzed: (1) how Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service land-use plans address oil and gas issues and the social, economic, and environmental impacts of oil and gas development; and (2) stipulations the agencies used to reduce such impacts.

GAO found that: (1) 75 of 82 BLM and Forest Service land-use plans, and related environmental impact statements concerning lands having high oil and gas potential did not identify or address 1 or more of the 5 elements essential for assessing the environmental impacts of oil and gas activities; (2) in fiscal year 1988, BLM and the Forest Service approved 10 percent of permits without identifying all of the approval conditions necessary to protect other resources; (3) inadequate BLM and Forest Service land-use plans or environmental studies resulted in suspended leases and lost or delayed revenues, primarily on Forest Service lands; (4) BLM and the Forest Service estimated that foregone and delayed revenues far exceeded any reasonable estimated cost to develop such information for resource areas and forests with high oil and gas potential; (5) BLM has developed its needed oil and gas information by amending existing plans or preparing new ones, while the Forest Service will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to amend or revise its plans or complete additional environmental studies; and (6) BLM and the Forest Service lacked adequate internal controls to ensure compliance with applicable regulations and guidance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Chief, Forest Service, has identified high-priority forests, and reevaluated this list annually since 1989. High priority forests are identified and consideration has been given to budget constraints.

    Recommendation: To ensure that resources available to improve oil and gas information are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to determine which resource areas or forests will yield the most revenues and give priority to revising plans or studies for those areas so oil and gas development can proceed expeditiously, with the least possible damage to the environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM has identified high-priority areas.

    Recommendation: To ensure that resources available to improve oil and gas information are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to determine which resource areas or forests will yield the most revenues and give priority to revising plans or studies for those areas so oil and gas development can proceed expeditiously, with the least possible damage to the environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has draft guidance on cumulative impacts which its field offices are using until final guidance comes out in the Federal Register.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on federal lands are adequately considered in land-use plans and at subsequent key decision points and that available resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to provide clear guidance on how to address cumulative impacts in land-use plans and related environmental studies. In addition, the Chief, Forest Service, should be directed to clarify when the recently issued guidance can be met by amending the land-use plan, completing additional environmental studies, or supplementing the plan with additional information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM has developed additional guidance on how to address cumulative impacts.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on federal lands are adequately considered in land-use plans and at subsequent key decision points and that available resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to provide clear guidance on how to address cumulative impacts in land-use plans and related environmental studies. In addition, the Chief, Forest Service, should be directed to clarify when the recently issued guidance can be met by amending the land-use plan, completing additional environmental studies, or supplementing the plan with additional information.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service has developed an action plan and a memo of understanding with BLM and a training session to its regions regarding NEPA. Additionally, the Service has drafted more detailed guidance as to how to complete environmental studies prior to leasing decisions. It has drafted a manual that, when final, will require its regions to ensure that stipulations are attached to APD and leases.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on federal lands are adequately considered in land-use plans and at subsequent key decision points and that available resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to establish an oversight and evaluation program to ensure that: (1) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requirements are adequately addressed, whether in land-use plans or other environmental studies, before leases are issued or permits to drill are approved; and (2) appropriate stipulations or conditions of approval are attached to leases and permits. As part of this program, the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, should establish measurable goals and target dates to correct identified problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BLM has made changes to the processes it uses to ensure that the act's requirements are addressed in land-use plans and that appropriate stipulations are included in leases and permits.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on federal lands are adequately considered in land-use plans and at subsequent key decision points and that available resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to establish an oversight and evaluation program to ensure that: (1) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requirements are adequately addressed, whether in land-use plans or other environmental studies, before leases are issued or permits to drill are approved; and (2) appropriate stipulations or conditions of approval are attached to leases and permits. As part of this program, the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, should establish measurable goals and target dates to correct identified problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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