Policy Update Jun 5, 2018

Position on Draft Onshore Energy Bills

NPCA submitted the following positions to members of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources ahead of a hearing scheduled for June 6, 2018.

Oil and gas leasing has already been proposed at the doorstep of some of our most unique and iconic national parks – Canyonlands, Dinosaur, Great Sand Dunes, Fossil Butte, and Carlsbad Caverns. These parks, and others, encompass exceptional landscapes and natural resources that in some cases, you cannot find anywhere else in the world. The four draft bills would loosen environmental review standards, shut out public input and place industry interests over protection of our national parks and public lands.

Below are some specific concerns we have with each bill:

Discussion Draft H.R. __, To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to recover the cost of processing administrative protests for oil and gas lease sales, applications for permits to drill, and right of way applications, and for other purposes.

  • This bill establishes, and requires, a fee schedule for protests of proposed lease parcels.
  • Our primary concern is that the bill creates a barrier to engagement for individuals or groups with limited finances. Everyone should be able to participate in open, public comment processes without additional financial hurdles. The frivolous per-page fees could discourage protesters from submitting complete documents with required supporting materials. It could also discourage protesters from protesting multiple parcels due to the arbitrary additional parcel fee. As comment periods are eliminated, protests are becoming the only meaningful opportunity for public input on particular leases.

Discussion Draft H.R. __ (Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico), To clarify the categorical exclusions authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and authorize additional categorical exclusions to streamline the oil and gas permitting process, and for other purposes.

  • This bill establishes statutory categorical exclusions and waives the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for several oil and gas activities.
  • Our concern is that these categorical exclusions set arbitrary acreage limits (20 acres) and do not consider what may be in or around those acreage boundaries. This is a direct way to exclude the public from commenting on drilling or construction that may be within a short distance of a national park site.

Discussion Draft H.R. __ (Rep. John Curtis), To amend the Mineral Leasing Act to authorize notifications of permit to drill, and for other purposes.

  • This bill would create a new process, a ‘notification of permit to drill’ (NPD), that could have detrimental impacts on national parks and public lands. With the new NPD process, if DOI does not actively object to an NPD, it is automatically approved after 45 days.
  • Our main concerns with this bill are threefold:
    • The automatic approval of an NPD after 45 days is very concerning. National parks and public lands that surround areas of potential drilling activities are too special to allow for automatic approval without public and other agency input.
    • The bill language is vague, leaving the public with little information on the quality of information that would be required to be submitted as part of an NPD.
    • There are several categorical exclusions where the Department of the Interior would be prohibited from objecting to an NPD: more arbitrary acreage and mile limits (five miles or 10 acres), submission of environmental reviews and archeological reviews (neither defined) that show no significant effects to the human environment, threatened or endangered species, or cultural or historic properties. Statutorily disallowing DOI input based on vague information provided by drilling companies will not protect our national parks and treasured public lands from the impacts of oil and gas drilling.

Discussion Draft H.R. __ (Rep. Steve Pearce), To clarify that Bureau of Land Management shall not require permits for oil and gas activities conducted on non-Federal surface estate to access subsurface mineral estate that is less than 50 percent Federally owned, and for other purposes.

  • This bill could impact national parks that are near private or state land that have wells that develop federal oil and gas through horizontal drilling. All federal requirements and approvals would be waived for these wells, such as NEPA and Endangered Species Act consultations.

In general, these bills seek to continue shutting out the public from engagement in oil and gas leasing and drilling activities on public lands, while also exempting these activities from NEPA. These bills come on the heels of a January 2018 policy memo issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), IM 2018-034, that, among other harmful policies, gave the BLM discretion to eliminate public comment periods for lease sales, and severely curtailed requirements for environmental impact study through NEPA. BLM Field Offices can now simply file a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) for oil and gas lease sales, which do not require a public comment period and are often tiered to decades-old Resource Management Plans that do not adequately understand or consider the impacts of drilling.

Additionally, IM 2018-034 shortened the notice period for lease sales to 45 days and the protest period to just 10 days; another means to limit the public’s opportunity to understand and respond to sales. The policy memo also eliminated the Master Leasing Plan policy which gave communities and stakeholders in high-use areas, like near national parks such as Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde and Dinosaur, the opportunity to speak up and identify leasing solutions that were a custom fit for the locality. All told, IM 2018-034 is an alarming part of a concerted effort on the part of the administration to limit public information about the impacts of energy development on national parks and other sensitive areas, deny opportunities for public engagement on public lands issues, and decrease transparency on administrative decision-making.