GAO discussed the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) and the Forest Service's implementation of legislation concerning those agencies' administration of oil and gas leases on public lands. GAO noted that: (1) although both BLM and the Service determined that they needed to study potential environmental impacts and satisfy all environmental requirements before issuing oil and gas leases or approving drilling permits, 75 of 82 land-use plans, which the agencies heavily relied on in making such determinations, did not adequately identify or address essential potential environmental impacts; (2) both agencies have begun work to improve the information they use in making lease decisions, but are also continuing to approve drilling permits before they obtain the necessary information; (3) the Service's January 1989 proposed regulations for implementing its legislatively required responsibilities did not clearly address bonding requirements, introduced lease development uncertainties, and improperly separated oil and gas leasing decisions from the normal land-use plans and environmental studies process; (4) BLM implementation of its responsibilities resulted in a substantial increase in the percentage of competitively leased land and per-acre revenues; and (5) BLM retained a lease-sale procedure which could reduce competition and revenues.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Forest Service||The Forest Service should confer with BLM in order to establish clear responsibilities for bonding to cover subsurface environmental impacts and nonpayment of royalties on Service lands.|
|Forest Service||Given the uncertainty of what adequate bond amounts should be, and the possibility that amounts larger than current BLM requirements may seriously impede oil and gas leasing, the Forest Service should study the need for and availability of larger bond amounts before issuing bonding regulations.|
|Forest Service||The Forest Service should remove bonding from the current rulemaking and propose a new bonding regulation after completing an appropriate study.|
|Forest Service||The Forest Service should improve its information on the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing and development on its lands so that informed decisions can be made before a lease is issued, thereby negating the need to deny subsequent development.|
|Forest Service||Unless the Forest Service can ensure that its proposed suitability determination process is consistent with its regulations and would be cheaper and faster than using existing land-use planning procedures, the Service should use its existing planning process, rather than establishing a new one, to determine which lands should be available for leasing.|