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Highlights

Rising U.S. energy consumption and concerns about dependency on foreign energy sources have prompted the administration to aggressively pursue domestic oil and gas production, including production on public lands, which in turn has generated concern that the impacts of this activity may compromise the use of public land for other purposes. GAO determined (1) the extent to which the level of oil and gas development on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has changed in recent years, and how the change has affected BLM's ability to mitigate impacts; (2) what policy changes related to oil and gas development BLM recently made and how these policies affected BLM's environmental mitigation activities; and (3) what challenges BLM faces in managing its oil and gas program.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Interior To ensure that BLM's staffing needs are accurately reflected in its workforce plans and considered by key decision makers, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to reflect in its workforce plans the staffing levels needed to perform the necessary number of environmental inspections and other mitigationactivities in addition to those positions that the agency expects to be funded.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that BLM included only staffing levels that were expected to be funded in their workforce plans, not actual staffing needs. GAO recommended that BLM reflect in its workforce plans staffing levels needed to perform the necessary number of environmental inspections and other activities needed to mitigate the impacts of oil and gas activity. In response, BLM analyzed the staffing levels needed to process the number of drilling permits expected to be received by the seven BLM field offices that account for the vast majority of permits. This analysis was used to identify the number and types of additional positions needed to process the drilling permits and perform the necessary number of environmental inspections and other mitigation activities. Based on this analysis, as of July 2007, more than 100 additional positions have been filled, including 45 additional inspections positions and 27 environmental monitoring positions.
Department of the Interior To ensure that BLM's staffing needs are accurately reflected in its workforce plans and considered by key decision makers, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to determine the data necessary to track workloads associated with idle-well reviews and reclamation inspections.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that BLM data on idle-well reviews were incomplete and interim reclamation inspections were not tracked at all. To address this concern, GAO recommended that BLM determine the data necessary to track workloads associated with idle-well reviews and interim reclamation inspections. In response, BLM issued guidance to its field offices on how to document idle-well reviews and the associated workloads. BLM also modified its centralized database, the Automated Fluid Minerals Support System, to track interim reclamation inspections and issued guidance to field offices on how to enter data on these inspections.
Department of the Interior To ensure that BLM's staffing needs are accurately reflected in its workforce plans and considered by key decision makers, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to ensure that the field offices consistently enter the data on idle-well reviews and reclamation inspections into BLM's centralized database.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that BLM field offices were inconsistently entering data on idle well reviews and final reclamation inspections into the agency's centralized database, the Automated Fluid Minerals Support System (AFMSS). This variation precluded senior BLM staff from gathering accurate and comparable data on the idle-well review and final reclamation workloads for each field office. GAO recommended that BLM ensure that its field offices consistently enter data on idle-well reviews and reclamation inspections into AFMSS. In response, BLM issued guidance to the field offices in fiscal year 2006 on documenting idle-well reviews and the associated workload. To standardize data gathered during final reclamation inspections, BLM also developed a new form for recording inspections data. BLM then followed-up to make sure that field offices were entering data as required and found that all field offices were recording data into AFMSS as directed.
Department of the Interior To generate additional revenues that could potentially help BLM better respond to its increased workload due to the significant increase in oil and gas production on public lands, the Secretary of the Interior should direct BLM to finalize and implement a fee structure to recover BLM's costs for processing applications for drilling permits.
Closed - Implemented
GAO found that it was unlikely BLM would be able to obtain adequate appropriations to meet all of its needs for administering its oil and gas program and observed that BLM should pursue every opportunity to generate additional revenues that could potentially be used to meet its needs. Given that BLM is not exercising its statutory authority to recover the cost of processing drilling permits, GAO recommended that BLM finalize and implement a fee structure to recover BLM's cost for processing these permits. The fiscal year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill which was signed into law by the President on December 26, 2007, requires that BLM charge a $4,000 processing fee for each new oil and gas drilling permit. To carry out this congressional directive BLM has issued interim guidance for its field offices regarding the collection and handling of the new fees. BLM is currently developing final guidance.

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