New BLM Memo To Streamline Agency Environmental Review
A new Bureau of Land Management directive to agency field staff calling for streamlining environmental reviews for Applications for Permits to Drill (APDs) on non-federal surface land for federal subsurface mineral estate was issued this week.
Interior Department Royalty Policy Committee advisers—a group of 20 representatives from government, oil and gas industry, academia, and renewables, among others—made their recommendation last week in Albuquerque, N.M.
“For many years, private and state wells have been held up by a minority of federal minerals that a lateral will touch,” said Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma.
Western Wire is a project of Western Energy Alliance.
The new instruction memorandum (IM) applies to APDs “for wellbores that produce Federal minerals from well pads that are located on entirely non-Federal lands,” or “Fee/Fee/Fed” according to BLM nomenclature. This includes private land as well as non-Federal government entities, like state lands.
“The BLM’s regulatory jurisdiction is limited to Federal lands (including minerals). Because the BLM’s regulatory jurisdiction is so limited, BLM activities that affect non-Federal lands must be carefully examined to ensure that BLM does not exceed its authority,” the June 12 instruction memorandum states.
The IM made it clear that BLM jurisdiction on surface lands not controlled by BLM or other federal agencies “extends to surface facilities on entirely non-Federal lands solely to the extent of assuring production accountability for royalties from Federal and Indian oil and gas (including prevention of theft, loss, waste, and assuring proper measurement).”
The new IM reverses a 2009 Obama-era IM from BLM that called for environmental assessments for state and private lands used to drill federal subsurface minerals.
Where appropriate, compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) will not be changed, as BLM is instructed to continue with a Determination of NEPA Adequacy or consideration of a regulatory categorical exclusion. If neither applies, the NEPA Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will still be required.
“The following guidance also applies to the BLM’s obligations under ESA and NHPA,” the IM continues.
Procedures for three situations are provided: a pre-existing well pad with no new surface disturbance, a pre-existing well pad with additional new surface disturbance, and a new proposed well pad for federal wells with no existing surface.
In addition to streamlining the procedure in the “Fee/Fee/Fed” APDs, the IM projects that the new procedures “may result in minor cost savings when processing APDs for drilling into Federal minerals from entirely non-Federal locations.”
Administering APDs that encourage directional drilling, which the BLM endorses as environmentally beneficial, presents a win/win for production and environmental protection because it limits the “amount of surface disturbance necessary to develop an oil and gas field relative to the use of traditional vertical wells.”
“The use of directional drilling technology is increasing and considered a Best Management Practice (BMP). The BLM strongly supports this environmental BMP as a means of limiting surface disturbance and overall impacts from oil and gas development,” BLM writes.