The Bureau of Land Management is developing new policies that will guide the future of oil and gas development on our public lands. Trout Unlimited is working to shape the standard operating procedures and accountability measures for oil and gas leases to better account for their impacts on fish and wildlife.
Tell Congress to Improve the Management of Oil and Gas Development on Public Lands
Trout Unlimited’s efforts to balance coldwater conservation with responsible energy development date back more than a decade. TU’s leadership in the effort to protect the Wyoming Range represents one of the best examples of anglers and hunters bringing people together from across the political spectrum for a common goal to protect public lands. In 2009, TU led a coalition of hook and bullet organizations and businesses, dubbed the Sportsmen for the Wyoming Range, worked with U.S. Senator John Barrasso to pass the Wyoming Range Legacy Act. This historic bill permanently protected 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming Range from future oil and gas development. The law also allowed individuals and organizations to buy and retire some 75,000 acres in the Bridger-Teton National Forest already leased for oil and gas development to willing sellers.
Recently, we were able to seize a political window last year during the 117th Congress to modernize oil and gas policies with several priority energy reform recommendations included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), including a new lease nomination fee, elimination of leases offered non-competitively and increased royalty rates and minimum bids.
While these policies will reduce impacts to fish and wildlife, help protect water resources, and affirm our country’s commitment to balanced multiple use public lands management, more needs to be done. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) need to codify these and other changes through the internal agency rulemaking to ensure common sense reforms to oil and gas leasing and permitting. The changes will also provide needed regulatory certainty for industry and protect valuable fish and wildlife habitat.
Without the BLM codifying these changes internally, we will continue to devalue important wildlife habitat and native trout populations especially now that the Inflation Reduction Act requires the BLM to offer substantial numbers of oil and gas leases in order for agencies to approve renewable energy development proposals.
Public lands are essential to sustaining our hunting and angling traditions. Working together with industry, urban and rural communities, and federal, state, and local governments, we can find common ground to improve polices and advance solutions for federal energy development programs. Not updating policies, laws, and regulations have resulted in many of our public lands not being utilized for their highest and best use, and taxpayers, wildlife, local businesses, and outdoor enthusiasts alike are suffering because of it.
Bringing the federal oil and gas program into the modern era involves common sense reforms that are long overdue. From 2012 to 2020, for example, the BLM leased five million acres – roughly twice the size of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks combined – that had little potential for energy development but overlapped valuable fish and wildlife habitat.
More than 90 percent of BLM lands – our public lands – are available for leasing. But our analysis shows that only 23 percent have moderate to high potential for oil and gas development. Leasing public lands should not be done on speculation, but rather where there are recoverable reserves that will provide value to the American people and to businesses.
In fact, more than 90 percent of BLM lands – our public lands – are available for leasing. But our analysis shows that only 23 percent have moderate to high potential for oil and gas development. Leasing public lands should not be done in areas with critical wildlife habitat and trout populations, but rather where there are recoverable reserves that will provide value to the American people and to businesses. Native trout have been extirpated from much of their historic range, so it’s important that the remaining aquatic habitat, especially native trout, be protected. Surface development within sensitive watersheds and close to or within riparian areas, wetlands, and streams compromises aquatic habitat and will make these aquatic systems less resilient, particularly as the climate changes and becomes more extreme.
In collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation and Rocky Mountain Wild, Trout Unlimited released a report showing how the practice of selling oil and gas leases on public lands with little or no potential for development wastes limited land management agency resources and threatens big game species, native and wild trout populations, and sage grouse habitat.
While the landmark climate legislation helps discourage speculative leasing through the elimination of non-competitive leasing, we need the BLM to address the remaining problems identified in the 2021 Report on the Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Program by codifying the following items into its internal rulemaking processes:
- Improving bonding and reclamation requirements by mandating oil and gas companies to fully pay for potential clean-up costs instead of taxpayers.
- Avoiding impacts to fish and wildlife resources by prioritizing leasing in areas with the least potential for conflicts and the greatest opportunity for responsible energy development.
- Ensuring lease suspensions and unit agreements are available for public review and are only approved when they are within the public interest.
- Establishing a more transparent leasing process that will provide meaningful opportunities for public engagement and Tribal consultation.
Responsible energy development and fish and wildlife conservation need not be mutually exclusive, but it depends on smart, balanced polices. Trout Unlimited is addressing these issues through additional agency guidance (e.g., no leasing in areas deemed low potential for oil and gas, and increasing minimum bonding amounts), advancing federal legislation (e.g. Senator Cortez Masto and Representative Lee’s End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act), advocating for new oil and gas leasing regulations through rulemakings, and updating antiquated land management plans that determine where the BLM and the Forest Service will allow future oil and gas leasing.
Our goal is to bring common sense reforms to oil and gas leasing and development, provide needed regulatory certainty for industry, further the Administration’s goals to increase conservation for fish and wildlife, avoid or mitigate environmental stressors on coldwater fisheries and their watersheds, and sustain a thriving economy.
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