The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has increased location and maintenance fees for mining claims on federal lands. The new location fee is $40, and the new maintenance fee is $165 per lode mining claim or site and $165 for each 20 acres or portion thereof for placer mining claims. The due date for all
On October 4, 2017, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) cannot postpone implementation of natural gas methane emission rules because such action would violate the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). Plaintiffs – the State of California, the State of New Mexico, and a coalition of seventeen conservation and tribal citizens groups (jointly “Plaintiffs”) – initiated the lawsuit in two separate actions. Plaintiffs argued that postponing implementation of the BLM’s Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule (“Final Rule”) after its effective date violated Section 705 of the APA.
Continue Reading Trump’s BLM Cannot Delay Implementation of Oil and Gas Methane Rules after Effective Date
Secretary of the Interior Zinke has directed that the Bureau of Land Management immediately begin implementing the recommendations in his Sage-Grouse Review Team’s report, which was was released today, concerning the 2015 greater sage-grouse amendments to federal land use management plans. (Prior post on Sage-Grouse Review Team here.) Among other things, such as coordinating federal mitigation policy with state mitigation approaches, the Trump Administration will now be moving to “[r]emove all [sagebrush focal areas (SFAs)] and the management actions tied to SFAs.” This would include the pending withdrawal for up to 20 years of over 10 million acres of SFAs on public lands in six western states from mineral location and entry under the General Mining Law . (Prior posts on withdrawal here and here.) The report also recognizes a short-term “[n]eed to clarify under what circumstances or how the [land use management] plans recognize valid existing rights.” Because valid existing rights (i.e., a mining claim within which a valuable mineral deposit has been discovered) are relevant if a withdrawal is approved, this recommended clarification indicates that the Trump Administration may well withdraw the SFAs for a short time while it moves forward with amending the plans to remove the SFAs altogether.
Continue Reading Sage-Grouse: Short Flight for Pending 10 Million-Acre Withdrawal from General Mining Law?
On Wednesday the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will auction helium stored in its Cliffside Field underground storage facility in west Texas (aka the Federal Helium Reserve). This annual auction under the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 is part of a privatization effort that began back in 1996 and will culminate with the BLM divesting itself of that facility by 2021. At the same time, concerns about helium supply are again rising, as production from Qatar, which accounts for 25% of global helium supply, was interrupted last month by an economic boycott in the region. These events are prompting Congress to consider changing the nearly century-old treatment of helium under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
Continue Reading Reconsidering Helium Production on Federal Lands Amid Privatization of Federal Helium Reserve
Late Wednesday Secretary of the Interior Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3353 establishing a Sage-Grouse Review Team to review the Obama Administration’s 2015 amendments to federal land use management plans. To avoid listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, those plan amendments had proposed that over 10 million acres of “sagebrush focal areas” on public lands in six western states be withdrawn from mineral location and entry under the General Mining Law for up to 20 years. The new Sage-Grouse Review Team’s work will include recommending changes to the amended plans that “give appropriate weight to the value of energy and other development on public lands within BLM’s overall multiple-use mission.” Comprised of representatives from various Department of the Interior agencies and working with the U.S. Forest Service and state agencies, the Sage-Grouse Review Team is to provide a written report on or before August 6, 2017.
Continue Reading With Mining Law Segregation on 10 Million Acres to Expire in Three Months, Interior Forms Sage-Grouse Review Team
On the last business day of 2016 the BLM released the DEIS on its proposed 20-year withdrawal of approximately 10 million acres of “sagebrush focal areas” (SFAs) in six western states from mineral location and entry under the General Mining Law. At the same time, the BLM temporarily “segregated” almost 400,000 more acres in Nevada that the State of Nevada has proposed as a substitute for nearly 500,000 acres within SFAs considered by the State to have high mineral potential or limited sage-grouse habitat. As described in our article last year in the American Bar Association’s mining newsletter, the BLM started this process in September 2015 as a key part of the justification for not listing the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. (That article also describes what the BLM’s proposal means for mining on these lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, and the multiple lawsuits that have been filed challenging the federal government’s actions.)
Continue Reading Sage Grouse Update: BLM Issues Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on Proposed Withdrawal of 10 Million Acres
On January 6, 2017, the federal Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a notice of Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (“DRMP Amendment”) and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“DEIS”) for oil and gas leasing and development on federal lands administered by the BLM, Central Coast Field Office (“Planning Area”). 82 Fed. Reg. 1754 (Jan. 6, 2017). The DRMP Amendment and DEIS describe and analyze alternatives for the planning and management of leasing and development in the Planning Area, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The BLM administers approximately 284,000 acres of surface estate and 793,000 acres of federal mineral estate within the Planning Area.
Continue Reading Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment Released for Central California Federal Lands
UPDATE: Quickly following on the heels of the Wyoming federal district court’s order striking down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) hydraulic fracturing rules, the state governments of North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah have now moved to dismiss the pending Tenth Circuit appeal of the district court’s preliminary injunction order. Those state government indicated in their brief that they had unsuccessfully attempted to reach out to counsel for the BLM and the environmental groups who filed that appeal, but expected those parties will oppose the dismissal motion.
Separately, the BLM and the intervening environmental groups each filed notices seeking to directly appeal the district court’s June 21 order and judgment striking the BLM’s rules to the Tenth Circuit. While it remains unclear exactly how this matter will now proceed on appeal, it seems likely that the Tenth Circuit will combine or consolidate all of these appeal issues in one way or another.
As we’ve previously reported, a Wyoming federal court issued a preliminary injunction order last year that temporarily halted the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) final rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on public lands. Since that time, the case has split into two proceedings: the Wyoming court moved forward with conducting a full legal analysis of the BLM’s final rule, while several environmental groups who had intervened in the lawsuit appealed the preliminary injunction order to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. This week we received some clarity on one of those proceedings, while the other remains pending.
District Court Strikes Down BLM Final Rule
On June 21, the Wyoming court struck down the BLM’s final rule, finding the agency lacked the legal authority to promulgate those regulations.
In his order, Judge Scott Skavdahl premised his opinion on whether Congress delegated requisite authority to the BLM to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public lands, and “not whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States.” Ultimately, Judge Skavdahl held, a federal agency “may not exercise its authority in a manner that is inconsistent with the administrative structure that Congress enacted into law.”Continue Reading Wyoming Court Strikes Down BLM Hydraulic Fracturing Rule; Existing Appeal Remains Pending (For Now)
The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) recently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental activists who have challenged the BLM’s Resource Management Plan (“RMP”) for public lands and minerals in California managed by the Bakersfield Field Office. The activists asked a California federal judge to strike down the BLM’s RMP, claiming that the BLM never considered the effect of “unconventional drilling methods,” such as hydraulic fracturing on the land.
The BLM responded by pointing out that hydraulic fracturing is not a new, unproven technology and has been routinely used in California for over 50 years. It is estimated that only 25% of new wells in the Bakersfield planning area are expected to undergo hydraulic fracturing. Furthermore, the BLM noted that 98% of new wells on federal mineral lands in the planning area are projected to be drilled on existing leases that have been producing for over 30 years and not on pristine, undisturbed lands.
The activists claimed that the BLM failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts associated with fracking as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). However, any claim that the BLM did not comply with NEPA in developing the RMP is particularly weak under these facts. The BLM developed a comprehensive, 1,000-page environmental impact statement (“EIS”). Additionally, before issuing a final decision, BLM commissioned an independent review of well stimulation technologies in California to ensure that its EIS accurately reflected the potential impacts of fracking. And finally, the independent review concluded that overall, the direct environmental impacts of well stimulation practice are relatively limited in California.
Continue Reading BLM Fights Back Against Activists’ Criticisms of CA Resource Management Plan
On Friday, January 22, 2016 the federal Department of the Interior’s (“DOI”) Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) issued a proposed rule on reducing waste and methane emissions in oil and gas operations. The rule would limit oil and gas flaring, venting, and leaking on federal and Indian lands. While the U.S. has become the largest natural gas producer in the world and U.S. oil production is at its highest level in nearly 30 years, the current regulations hearken back to the mid-1980’s, when gas production and greenhouse gas concerns were very different than they are today.
The proposed rule is composed of “commonsense and cost-effective measures,” according to Janice Schneider, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Broadly, the proposed rule would require operators to adopt currently available technologies in order to limit the rate of flaring at oil wells, and would require operators to inspect for leaks and replace equipment that vents methane emissions into the air.Continue Reading BLM Proposes “Commonsense” Rule to Limit Methane Emissions from Oil & Gas Operations
On January 20, Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz unveiled a “discussion draft” of the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act. The proposed bill undertakes the difficult task of balancing economic development and conservation on public land in the State of Utah.
Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz began working together on the bill in February 2013. Since that time, more than 120 different stakeholders have submitted more than 65 detailed proposals regarding land management in eastern Utah. Altogether, their offices have held more than 1,200 meetings with local and tribal leaders, interested parties, and subject matter experts.
The bill is organized in two parts: “Division A” covers land protection and conservation and “Division B” covers recreation and economic development opportunities.
Division A creates forty-one new wilderness areas covering 2,274,373 acres of federal land. Wilderness is a legal designation designed to provide long-term protection and conservation of public lands. Wilderness areas are protected and managed so as to preserve the area’s natural surroundings in an unimpaired condition. Generally, motor vehicles and mechanical transport are prohibited in wilderness areas. However, the proposed bill makes certain exceptions for maintaining grazing facilities and access to water resource facilities.
Continue Reading Utah Congressmen Unveil Landmark Public Land Bill