Wilderness Society Analysis Shows that Oil and Gas Industry Has Access to Nearly 90% of Federally Managed BLM Land

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Findings show that agencies need to do a better job at planning for recreation, conservation and other land values aside from energy production.

An analysis of public lands management plans across western states shows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is favoring oil and gas development over other legally mandated uses of our shared lands. Nearly 90% of lands being managed by the BLM are open for leasing under Resource Management Plans(RMPs) with only 10% available to be managed for recreation, wilderness, conservation, and cultural and historic values. The Wilderness Society analysis, Open for Business (and not much else), highlights this unacceptable and unbalanced approach to managing our lands.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Nada Culver, Agency Policy Director for The Wilderness Society. “While industry continues to complain about their access to lands to drill, the reality is that the BLM has been giving them an unfair advantage.”

The Wilderness Society reviewed BLM Resource Management Plans in 11 western states. Currently, more than 36 million acres of federal land and minerals are under lease by the oil and gas industry. Of the 36 million acres under lease, only 12.6 million acres (35%) are actually in production – leaving 23.4 million acres of American land locked up by the oil and gas industry though they are not even developing the leases. The industry has also requested that BLM issue thousands of permits to drill, which are going unused.

“The BLM uses strict standards for deciding which lands should be managed as ‘recreation management areas’ or as ‘areas of critical environmental concern’ but does not apply similar standards for oil and gas leasing, so other uses have to meet a higher bar,” said Culver. “True multiple use of our public lands means giving a fair shake to their many values and uses, including conservation. This can, and should be, better reflected in decisions to open or close public lands to leasing as part of planning processes and in the BLM’s current efforts to modernize its approach to land use planning.”

More proactive approaches to conservation will not deprive the oil and gas industry of lands to lease and develop. There is significant acreage already under lease, while millions of these acres are not being developed and thousands of permits to drill go unused. There is no risk that the BLM will deprive the industry of new lands to lease. To help create a much-needed balance, the BLM should:

  • IDENTIFY AREAS FOR CONSERVATION: Conservation values like wildlife, recreation and wilderness are important uses of our land and should be addressed in the initial stages of the planning processes.
  • NOT DEFAULT TO LEAVING AREAS OPEN FOR LEASING: Lands should only be made available for oil and gas leasing if they have moderate to high potential for development and development can be managed where it conflicts with other resources.
  • IDENTIFY AREAS THAT ARE MOST APPROPRIATE FOR OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT: Some lands are simply inappropriate for development and the BLM should guide leasing to areas that have been pre-screened as best-suited for oil and gas development.
  • ADDRESS IMBALANCES IN EXISTING PLANS: Use the data gained through the Rapid Ecoregional Assessments, ongoing inventories of lands with wilderness characteristics and cultural resources, and research regarding the best ways to protect fish and wildlife habitat within existing management plans.
  • INCORPORATE MASTER LEASING PLANS (MLP): MLPs are already being used to develop a more informed and balanced approach to leasing and development in areas where there are ongoing conflicts between oil and gas and other resources, such as recreation, fish and wildlife habitat and cultural resources.

“The BLM has many opportunities to improve the way it manages our public lands,” said Culver. “We’re providing this information to highlight the need to get it right now. Our public lands are important to many people and communities and they should not be left to the whims of the oil and gas industry.”

Open for Business (and not much else) report

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Jennifer Dickson

Chase Huntley, Senior Director for Government Relations
The Wilderness Society,
(202) 429-7431
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