05/11/2020 - Regulatory Tracker

Forest Service Oil and Gas Regulations

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Why It Matters

The federal government owns approximately 30% (700 million acres) of the United States’ onshore subsurface mineral estate (property rights to underground resources held separately from the surface property rights). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the leasing of those subsurface rights for oil and gas development in coordination with the relevant surface management agency or landowner.

The U.S. Forest Service manages the National Forest System: 284 units of forest, grassland, and other areas encompassing nearly 193 million acres. On National Forest System lands, the Forest Service issues surface oil and gas permits to potential developers based on their ability to comply with environmental and other regulations. BLM then administers the subsurface mineral lease itself. The Forest Service’s regulations therefore govern both whether and how developers may pursue oil and gas resources on a significant portion of federal lands.

Current Status

In 2017, President Trump issued Executive Orders 13,783 and 13,807, indicating his intent to reduce regulatory burdens on energy development and infrastructure projects. Pursuant to those orders, on September 1, 2020, the Forest Service proposed new oil and gas regulations. Current regulations require an area-wide and site-specific analysis; the proposed rule requires only the area-wide analysis.

For more information about this proposal, read our backgrounder.

History

March 21, 1990 The Forest Service promulgates its oil and gas regulations.

March 7, 2007 The Forest Service issues minor modifications in response to Onshore Order No. 1. Among other things, Onshore Order No. 1 clarifies the role of the Secretary of Agriculture in regulating surface mining in national forests and grasslands.

Trump Era

March 28, 2017 President Trump issues Executive Order 13,783, “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” The order directs federal agencies to review regulatory burdens on energy development.

August 24, 2017 President Trump issues Executive Order 13,807, “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” meant to reduce the time required for environmental review of infrastructure projects. For more information on the history and current status of the Trump Administration’s position on environmental review, please visit the National Environmental Policy Act tracker page.

September 13, 2018 The Forest Service publishes an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, opening a one-month comment period in preparation for proposing a rule. The notice does not specify what changes the agency seeks to make. But it does seek comment on the time required for environmental reviews of oil and gas permitting that “unnecessarily encumber energy production,” intimating that the agency will be seeking to accelerate those reviews.

Fall 2019 The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which reviews all proposed rules before they are published, projects that a proposed rule will be forthcoming as early as March 2020.

Sept. 1, 2020 The Forest Service publishes proposed regulations for oil and gas resources in national forests. Among other changes, the proposal designates a single opportunity for the Forest Service to identify lands that BLM may offer for oil and gas leasing. Under the current regulations, the Forest Service conducts an area-wide analysis and a site-specific analysis. This rule would eliminate the second site-specific step, which the Forest Service argues is duplicative. The public comment period is open through Nov. 2, 2020. For more information about this proposal, read our backgrounder.