Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Monday announced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has finalized several key reforms (pdf) to its oil and gas leasing program that will allow for more public input, better coordination between federal agencies and fewer loopholes when it comes to environmental reviews.
The changes to the BLM leasing program were first announced in January but just now finalized and still have not gone into effect, prompting former regulators and environmental groups to call on more rapid onshore reforms in the wake of the offshore Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to a release from the Depart of Interior, the reforms will:
● Engage the public in the development of Master Leasing Plans (MLP) prior to leasing in certain areas where significant new oil and gas development is anticipated.
● Ensure potential lease sales are fully coordinated both internally and externally, including public participation, and interdisciplinary review of available information, as well as on- site visits to parcels prior to leasing when necessary.
● Require an “extraordinary circumstances” review screen before applying the categorical exclusions in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to oil and gas drilling activities on BLM lands. Categorical exclusions are categories of actions that do not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment, and for which the BLM is generally not required to prepare extensive environmental reviews.
Larry J. Gerard, a retired BLM employee with 33 years of experience, said in a release that it’s high time the Obama administration changed the culture of lax environmental review prevalent under the Bush administration.
“As a retired BLM employee, I am hopeful that Secretary Salazar’s leasing reforms will overturn the previous administration’s limited environmental oversight on important public lands,” Gerard said. “I’ll be watching to see if the agency implements the reforms in a timely manner.”