Trump Administration Reverses Obama-Era Drilling Restrictions

Published November 21, 2017

As part of its efforts to comply with President Donald Trump’s Executive Order “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” the Department of Interior (DOI) has announced plans to rescind a policy implemented under former President Barack Obama placing large areas of public lands off limits for consideration of oil and gas leasing and development.

Trump’s March 28 order required federal agencies to review all rules and policies that “unnecessarily encumbers” U.S. energy production with a goal towards eliminating regulatory hurdles to increased oil and gas production on public lands.

Among the recommendations made in a 44-page DOI report on how the agency plans to comply with the executive order, DOI proposes eliminating an Obama-era leasing reform, the use of master leasing plans (MLPs), designed to prevent oil and natural gas development near areas with high natural and cultural resource values.

DOI announced it would end the use of MLPs by 2018, using individual resource management plans to guide where energy development will be allowed on public lands.

Environmentally Responsible Energy Production

In an October 25 statement made upon the release of its report, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the goal of his agency’s report is “streamlining permitting and revising and repealing Obama-era job killing regulations — all while doing so in an environmentally responsible way.”

Under President Obama the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) used MLPs to place sensitive tracts off-limits. BLM has already approved, more than a dozen MLPs restricting energy leasing, exploration, and development on millions of acres in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

Greenwire reports, for example, the Moab MLP in Utah, for example, approved by BLM in December closed 145,000 acres of federal lands near the Arches and Canyonlands national parks to future mineral leasing, capped well densities on projects in sensitive areas, and placed additional surface occupancy restrictions on about 306,000 acres the plan said, “are highly valued for scenery and recreation.”

“Our public lands are meant to be managed for the benefit of the people,” said Zinke in the statement announcing the DOI reports release. “That means a multiple-use approach where appropriate and making sure that multiple-use includes energy development under reasonable regulations.”

The DOI report says re-establishing BLM resource management plans as the primary guide for energy leasing will result in more streamlined process and reduce the amount of time it takes to offer lease sales.

Industry Pleased

Greenwire reports the oil and gas industry, which has complained MLPs are unnecessary, and redundant, limiting access to valuable domestic energy resources, is pleased with the Trump administration’s plan to scrap the use of MLPs for resource planning.

“It’s not at all surprising that MLPs are included in the burdens report, as they were another layer of NEPA added to the existing four or five layers required before any oil and natural gas development takes place on federal lands,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, said in an emailed statement to Greenwire. “The 2010 MLP policy was redundant at the time it was put in place, and it’s fully appropriate that it’s removed now.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.