"Endangered mountain sweet pitcher plant (Sarracenia rubra jonesii) (5099618650)" by USFWS Endangered Species is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

New Department Of The Interior Rules Update Onshore Oil & Gas Leasing & Other Regulations

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The US Department of the Interior is stepping up regulations to protect federal lands from the havoc of fossil fuel development and rampant disregard for endangered wildlife.

It has announced a final rule to revise the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) oil and gas leasing regulations, “which will ensure a balanced approach to development, provide a fair return to taxpayers, and help keep drilling activities from conflicting with the protection of important wildlife habitat or cultural sites.” The rule minimizes resource conflicts between fossil fuel development and other resources on BLM-managed public lands and subsurface mineral estate. It also helps to ensure the protection and proper stewardship of public lands, including potential climate and other impacts associated with fossil fuel activities.

It’s the first comprehensive update to federal onshore oil and gas leasing regulations in nearly 4 decades.

“As a result of this badly needed modernization, the BLM will continue to meet America’s energy needs while leading the way in sustainable as the agency works to manage public lands in a balanced, responsible way.”

The rule change was needed as a direct result of and in combination with the climate crisis, because previous practices wreaked habit on formerly pristine ecosystems.

The fossil fuel industry called the public lands rule an example of regulatory overreach that will stifle domestic energy production. States like Wyoming collect more than a billion dollars a year in royalties and taxes from the oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands.

The fossil fuel industry seems to have forgetten that the US pumps more oil than any nation in history. In fact, the US produced 12.9 million barrels of oil per day (BPD) in 2023. That was the most crude oil produced by any country in history (and well ahead of rivals Russia, with 10.1 million BPD, and Saudi Arabia’s 9.7 million BPD). It shattered the country’s previous record of 12.3 million BPD in 2019.

The new BLM rule will affect about 245 million acres, primarily in 12 western states, about one-tenth of the nation’s land mass. Now, for the first time, the nearly 80-year-old agency will auction off “restoration leases” and “mitigation leases” to entities with plans to restore or conserve public lands. It:

  • ensures responsible leasing and diligent development to minimize conflicts with other resources so that the BLM can continue to manage public lands for multiple uses;
  • implements key fiscal reforms, including updating royalty rates, rental rates, and minimum bids on BLM-managed public lands;
  • modernizes bonding requirements for leasing, development, and production so taxpayers do not bear the cost of orphaned wells on public lands;
  • changes royalties, rentals, and fees so the US public receives a fair return from authorized oil and gas activities on public lands;
  • helps protect taxpayer interests by increasing bonding requirements for the first time in 6 decades; and,
  • removes taxpayers from bearing the cost of orphaned and abandoned wells on public lands.

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Trump-Era Dilution of the Endangered Species Act is Reversed

The Biden-Harris administration is also restoring a series of protections for threatened animals and plants that had been significantly weakened during the Trump administration. Now it’s harder to remove a species from the endangered list, and protections for threatened species, the classification one step below endangered, have been strengthened.

The Department of the Interior’s US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) have finalized 3 rules that will:

  • restore important protections for species and their habitats;
  • strengthen the processes for listing species, designating of critical habitat, and consultation with other federal agencies; and,
  • ensure a science-based approach that will improve both agencies’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The rules are designed to protect species in a changing climate; bring back protections for animals that are classified as “threatened” with extinction, which is one step short of “endangered,” and clarify that decisions about whether to list a species must be made without considering economic factors. The agencies finalized 2 separate rules to revise joint ESA regulations regarding interagency cooperation, listing determinations, and critical habitat designations. These final rules:

  • improve and clarify interagency consultation;
  • clarify the standards for classification decisions;
  • align the critical habitat designation process with the ESA;
  • emphasize that listing decisions and critical habitat designations are based on the best-available science; and,
  • reinstate the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 4(d) “blanket rule” options that were in place before 2019 for protecting threatened species, which will allow for greater efficiencies when the Service finds the blanket rule protections are appropriate.

During the Trump administration, officials removed protections for many animals categorized as threatened. They gave regulators permission to conduct economic assessments when deciding whether a species warranted protection.

Republicans and industry groups are expected to continue to fight the new rules, which they say will not benefit listed species. “The imposed Endangered Species Act restrictions are especially harmful to those, such as our farmer/rancher members, who depend on being able to produce their livelihoods through access to and use of natural resources,” the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation wrote in a comment to the proposed changes.

Others that have spoken out against the new ESA rules include the oil and gas industry, foresters, and states that want more control over managing wildlife, as reported by the New York Times.

Final Thoughts about the Department of the Interior Actions

The Biden-Harris administration is on track to conserve more lands and waters than any previous US administration. On Earth Day President Biden called on US residents to “reflect on the need to protect our precious planet; to heed the call to combat our climate and biodiversity crises while growing the economy; and to keep working for a healthier, safer, more equitable future for all.”

Western state leaders oppose the Biden administration’s efforts to change the Department of the Interior’s past practices, calling them “colonial forces of national environmental groups who are pushing an agenda” onto states.

On the other hand, Biden has called for “building a greener, more sustainable planet and, with it, a healthier, more prosperous nation.”

And the administration isn’t done, either. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced this week that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have finalized updated regulations for renewable energy development on the US Outer Continental Shelf. The final rule increases certainty and reduces the costs associated with the deployment of offshore wind projects by modernizing regulations, streamlining overly complex processes and removing unnecessary ones, clarifying ambiguous regulatory provisions, and enhancing compliance requirements.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack: https://carolynfortuna.substack.com/.

Carolyn Fortuna has 1310 posts and counting. See all posts by Carolyn Fortuna