Interior review omits oil and gas rule

By Pamela King | 11/03/2017 07:31 AM EDT

The Interior Department could skip one rule in its effort to erase all agency actions that unduly strain U.S. energy production.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, located near the center of the Texas Panhandle, has 174 oil and gas operations, more than any other National Park Service site.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, located near the center of the Texas Panhandle, has 174 oil and gas operations, more than any other National Park Service site. National Park Service

The Interior Department could skip one rule in its effort to erase all agency actions that unduly strain U.S. energy production.

Last week, Interior unveiled its review of all department actions with the potential to burden domestic energy activity. The report touched on the department’s ongoing examination of rules introduced by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service under the previous administration to guide oversight of oil and gas operations on sites the agencies manage.

But beyond a mention of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s secretarial order listing four Interior rules pinpointed in President Trump’s March 28 "energy independence" directive, the NPS rule doesn’t even appear in the document.


"The NPS rule was under review," said Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift. "No action has been taken or identified for it, which is why it is not in the report."

She did not confirm whether the current rule would be allowed to stand.

In keeping with the White House strategy to promote "energy independence and economic growth," Interior had previously indicated it would review four oil and gas rules (Energywire, April 4).

Two of those rules — introduced by President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management to control hydraulic fracturing and methane emissions on public lands — have since been proposed for rescission and suspension under the rulemaking process.

The Trump administration also targeted two less controversial Obama-era measures: One expanded NPS’s oversight of older drill sites and wells located on park peripheries, and another introduced new standards for FWS governance of oil and gas activity in wildlife refuges (Greenwire, April 25).

As of the release of Interior’s regulatory review, FWS and NPS had not introduced proposals to change their oil and gas rules. Last week’s report offered no further details on how — or even whether — the regulations would be unraveled.

Big South Fork National River. Photo credit: National Park Service
One-hundred-fifty-two oil and gas operations are contained within Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area’s 125,000 Tennessee acres. | National Park Service

Short of a proactive statement from Interior that the NPS rule will remain intact, it still appears to be fair game for revision, said Nicholas Lund, senior manager for the National Parks Conservation Association’s landscape conservation program.

"I would like a clear indication, but we don’t have that," said Lund, who supported the rule.

Interior’s report is a response to Trump’s energy independence order, but it’s unclear whether the department’s document offers a comprehensive picture of how it will fulfill the president’s vision.

"There’s no indication that this report is a path forward for them or is everything they’re planning to do or will do," Lund said.

Four energy industry groups said they opposed the NPS rule because it was duplicative.

"Our comment letters point out our concerns with the proposed regulations and we would hope that those are addressed by Interior," said American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC) President Bruce Thompson. "A fair and reasonable regulatory regime is not a problem for AXPC members, and we are always willing and anxious to sit down with our regulators in any agency to work on a result that is good for all parties."

He added that AXPC favors a complete repeal of the NPS rule.

"One way to achieve this would be the rescission immediately followed by engagement with all stakeholders with a view to generate thoughtful and fair regulations," Thompson said.

FWS rule

Swift said yesterday that she had no additional information to offer on the FWS regulation. Interior’s review includes slightly more information on the rule’s future — but not much.

"The FWS is reviewing its final rule, ‘Management of Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights’ … to determine whether revision would be appropriate to reduce burden on energy," the report says.

Supporters of the rule said they objected to its characterization in the Interior review.

"The Department of the Interior’s ‘burdens’ report only briefly references this rule, noting that the administration is still reviewing it for potential burdens on energy development," said Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

"We contend there are none."

Instead of burdening the government, the rule introduces efficiency to the federal process for managing private mineral interests in the refuge system, Salvo said.

"Voiding this rule would create legal and operational uncertainty for both refuge managers and developers, threaten wildlife and watersheds, and undermine safe, sustainable economic development," he said.

FWS’s rule drew criticism from the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Both oil and gas trade groups also opposed the NPS rule.

"The legal and practical bases for the proposed regulations are, at best, questionable," the associations wrote. "As described above, the most prudent approach would be for the Service to continue to manage oil and gas activities under its 2012 guidelines for a sufficient period of time, and with adequate staffing, resources, and training, to accurately determine the areas in which those guidelines are effective and the areas in which they are not."

API and IPAA suggested changes to the proposed FWS rule in anticipation of the Obama administration moving forward with the regulation. Those alterations included adjustment of the rule’s geographic scope, timing, and appeals process and financial assurances.

"The natural gas and oil industry supports smart, common sense regulations that protect our workers and the environment," API spokeswoman Brooke Sammon wrote in an email yesterday.