Oil and Gas Resource Development
Oil, gas (including coalbed methane), and coal are the nation's principal non-renewable energy resources. Development of federally owned oil and gas resources is regulated by several federal laws and associated regulations:
- Leasing of federal resources is regulated primarily under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) as amended by the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 (FOOGLRA), and regulations issued by the Department of the Interior (onshore regulations were updated and revised in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
- Environmental impacts of development are regulated through: federal agency organic acts like the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Forest Management Act (NFMA); and national environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.
State and local laws and regulations also regulate oil and gas development on federal, state and privately owned lands. State laws and regulations can control the location of exploration and production facilities and the environmental impacts of development. The role of local ordinances varies from state to state. As oil and gas development has accelerated in recent years, some states have responded with stricter regulations requiring broader public participation in leasing decisions. A recent investigation raised concerns about the effectiveness of state regulation as drilling has expanded dramatically. See "State oil and gas regulators are spread too thin to do their jobs," ProPublica, 12/30/09.
The recent expansion of natural gas development made possible by new extraction technologies has influenced markets and challenged regulators to keep up with potential impacts. For a discussion of the interplay between these two energy sources, see "With all this natural gas, who needs oil?" Christian Science Monitor, 4/22/12.
Federally owned oil, gas, coal, coalbed methane, and oil shale are all "leasable" minerals. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has discretion to lease these minerals, generating revenue for the states, tribes and federal government. The MLA does not specifically mention coalbed methane, but it is generally leased as part of the gas resource. All these minerals were originally "locatable" minerals, developed for free on federal lands under the General Mining Law of 1872. The MLA removed the energy minerals (coal, oil, oil shale, gilsonite and gas) from the "free access" rule of the 1872 Mining Law. The 1872 Mining Law still allows development of hardrock minerals like gold, silver and copper without payment of any lease royalties.
For an excerpt from an article on the history of the Mineral Leasing Act, see "The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920: The law that changed Wyoming's economic destiny," WyoFile, 5/8/12.
Oil and Gas Resources
The Energy Act of 2000, P.L. 106-469 required the Department of the interior (DOI) to inventory federal lands for oil and gas resources. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Section 364) expands this mandate to require DOI to identify impediments to the timely granting of leases, post-lease restrictions, development, and transporting resources. DOI must also identify what resources are not developed because of these impediments.
BLM chooses which lands to lease for oil and gas development. The agency is not obligated to lease any particular area for development—even after advertising the area in a lease sale.
Does WY CBM waste water pumping violate MT water rights on the Yellowstone River?
The State of Montana contends that Wyoming has violated the MT-WY Yellowstone River Compact by taking more water out of the river than is allowed under the compact. Montana contends that groundwater pumped out of the basin by CBM producers must be counted as Wyoming water use under the compact allocation.
Does WY sufficiently regulate disposal of CBM produced water?
In the recent case of William F. West Ranch v. Tyrrell, the Wyoming Supreme Court found that claims of property damage resulting from water discharges could not be determined at that time, but recognized that the ranchers raised serious allegations that should be addressed in the future.
In Colorado, CBM water is put to a "beneficial use" in the development process.
In Vance v. Wolfe, the Colorado Supreme Court determined that the CBM process "uses" water (by extracting it from the ground and storing it in tanks) to "accomplish" a particular "purpose" (the release of methane gas.) The extraction of water to facilitate CBM production is therefore a "beneficial use" under Colorado water law.
Coalbed methane (CBM) is a form of natural gas that is trapped within coal
seams. The gas is attached to the internal surfaces of the coal and held in place by water pressure. Coal miners originally considered CBM a waste gas, producing it mainly to reduce the threat of
methane explosions in coal mines, but commercial production started in
1981 and has grown rapidly.
CBM is produced and transported with much the same process and equipment as methane from a regular gas field. The major difference is that wells are drilled into the coal seam to first remove water. As
the water is removed and water pressure in the seam decreases, the gas is released from the coal and flows through fractures in the coal to the well. Generally, a lot of water is produced from a CBM well before much methane can be recovered. The quantity and quality of the water released during production varies throughout the West with deeper CBM wells generally producing less - but poorer quality - water than shallow wells. Disposal of this water is a major controversy in CBM development in the West.
For recent developments on disposing of CBM-produced water, see Clean Water Act: Process Essentials: Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permits.
Do Development Impacts Differ Significantly?
Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no.
If the impacts of CBM development are likely to differ from those of traditional oil and gas, BLM must specifically assess the potential impacts of CBM development - not just oil and gas development - in a NEPA document before leasing. See Wyoming Outdoor Council, et al., 164 IBLA 84 (Pinedale, WY) and Pennaco Energy v. DOI (10th Cir. 2004) (Powder River Basin).
If the impacts are not significantly different (e.g., in the Piceance Basin of Colorado), BLM's pre-lease analysis of conventional oil and gas development is a sufficiently "hard look" at the issues to satisfy NEPA. See Western Slope Environmental Resource Council, 163 IBLA 262.
Several federal agencies are involved in energy resource development:
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the main federal agency responsible for regulating development of non-renewable, federally-owned energy resources. The BLM is responsible for leasing federal oil and gas, coal, and geothermal minerals, and for supervising the exploration, development and production operations for these resources on both federal and Indian lands.
- Other land management agencies—the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Park Service—participate in leasing and development decisions on lands that they manage.
- The Office of Natural Resources and revenues) collects and disburses mineral revenues generated for federal and American Indian lands and minerals.
- The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) manages oil and gas revenues for tribal members with Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is ultimately responsible for implementing environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, to control impacts of oil and gas development. For example, in April 2012, the EPA released new air quality standards specific to development of natural gas.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 included two major provisions directed at cooperation among federal agencies to facilitate oil and gas development:
Section 363 requires DOI to develop an MOU with the Forest Service to establish administrative procedures to:
- eliminate duplication of effort,
- deal consistently with lease stipulations and assure that they are only as restrictive, as necessary to protect resources,
- establish a joint data system for tracking operations, and
- establish a joint GIS system for tracking resource values, plans of operations and APDs.
Section 365 established a multi-agency, multi-state Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project which:
- creates special energy project teams to facilitate development, and
- earmarks 50% of lease rentals for use by specific DOI field offices and cooperating agencies for authorizing oil and gas development in these areas.
Indian Trust Accounts
In 1887, Congress passed the General Allotment Act authorizing the division of some tribal reservation land into individual plots. These plots were assigned to tribal members but held in trust by the federal government. In the allotment era, Congress tried to dismantle tribes and instill the concept of private land ownership in Native Americans. This era ended with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934 but most allotted lands remained in trust. As part of their trust responsibility, the Department of Interior manages Individual Indian Money accounts (IIM) for the many heirs of the allotees. These accounts include revenue from oil and gas leasing, timber sales and mineral extraction.
Alleging that mismanagement of these funds constituted a breach of fiduciary duty, plaintiff Elouise Cobell and others filed a class action suit (Cobell v. Kempthorne) in 1996 on behalf on the beneficiaries of the IIM trust accounts. The litigation also sought a formal accounting of the IIM trust which Congress ordered the Department of the Interior to make in 1994. (Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act). After more than a decade of litigation, the parties settled the case in 2010, and President Obama signed legislation awarding the plaintiffs $3.4 billion in December 2010. For information, see the Indian Trust Settlement website or the Deparment of Interior news release about the settlement.
A "split estate" exists when the landowner does not own the land's minerals. Traditionally, the owner of land controlled "from the heavens to the center of the earth." Congress changed this so that land ownership can be horizontally divided into surface and subsurface "estates." The mineral estate can be further subdivided by minerals—the oil, gas and coal owners can all be different.
Split Estate Study
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires DOI to review its current policies and practices for federal oil and gas development under private surface. The DOI report, published in December 2006:
- Compares the rights and responsibilities of DOI, the federal lease holder (developer) and private landowners;
- Compares surface owner consent requirements for oil and gas development with the more restrictive requirements for federal coal development; and
- Makes recommendations of legislative and administrative changes necessary to balance reasonable access for development with surface impacts and owner concerns.
For more information and to access the study, visit BLM's Best Management Practices -- Split Estates web page.
There are three types of split estates:
- The federal government owns only the surface;
- The federal government owns only the minerals; or,
- Different private owners own both the surface and minerals.
If the private landowner owns only the surface, she does not have the right to develop the minerals and, in most cases, does not have the right to prevent development. Depending on who owns the minerals:
- The federal government can lease them, or
- The private owner can develop them using as much of the land for well and transport structures as is reasonably necessary.
Before developing oil and gas, the mineral owner or lessee must either get written consent or a waiver from the landowner (a surface use agreement) or pay an agreed-upon amount for damages. If the landowner does not consent to development or agree to a damage amount, the developer can still develop the resource after posting an approved bond.
More detail on BLM's policy for protecting split estate landowners can be found in the Department's Instruction Memorandum 2003-131.
State law on split estates
Several western states have recently considered measures to address the rights of landowners in split estate situations. In 2005, Wyoming's S0060:
Despite Wyoming's efforts, the law may do little to help landowners. Ten of the 11 million acres of split estate lands in Wyoming involve federal minerals. The Department of the Interior claims that the Wyoming law does not apply where federal minerals are involved.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration
The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) web site provides information on split estates and other oil and gas issues. See, for example their report, Law and Order in the Oil and Gas Fields.
Good Neighbor Agreements (GNA) are a type of negotiated agreement between a community organization and a local pollution-generating company. So far, the agreements have been used primarily in fields such as petrochemicals, but GNAs can also be used for mines and wellfield development. GNAs take a variety of forms, but typically they are agreements promising company concessions and behavioral changes designed to reduce (and more fully disclose) negative community impacts in exchange for community group commitments to forego permit challenges, lawsuits, negative publicity campaigns, and other forms of activism against the company. Despite the positive sentiments evoked by the "good neighbor" terminology, these arrangements are typically the product of hard-fought negotiations.
For more information on Good Neighbor Agreements, see the Stillwater Mine Good Neighbor Agreement story.
A large share of the monies collected on federal oil and gas and geothermal leases is returned to the states where the resource was produced. For most federal oil and gas or geothermal leases, the state in which the development occurs receives 50 percent of revenues collected; Alaska receives a 90 percent share. The states can use this money without restriction. In 2005, Federal lands generated $5.4 billion in revenue for the U.S. Treasury, $2.3 billion for special use funds including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a record $1.7 billion to 35 states.
On May 24, 2011, the U.S. Department of Interior announced that it is exploring ways to streamline its system for calculating and collecting royalties for oil and gas operations on federal lands and waters. According to an agency news release, the DOI will "explore the use of geographically-based market prices as the presumptive value of oil and gas produced in that region, thus removing the need to undertake a transaction-by-transaction, fact-specific evaluation of contract amounts, and transportation and gas processing costs." The agency is conducting a separate study to evaluate the need to increase the 12.5 percent royalty for onshore oil and gas production, and in early 2012, Sec. Salazar announced plans to increase royalties for oil and gas drilling on public lands by 50 percent.
Rights-of-way (ROW) for oil and gas development, as well as other purposes, are generally authorized through special use permits issued by the land management agencies. A ROW grant is an authorization to use a specific piece of public land for specific facilities for a specific period of time. BLM grants the majority of its ROWs under Title V of FLPMA (43 U.S.C. 1761-1771) and, for oil and natural gas gathering and transmission pipelines, under special provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, section 368, requires DOI to consult with several other departments and entities to designate corridors for oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities on federal lands in the eleven western states. These entities must also perform the necessary NEPA evaluations and incorporate the corridors into appropriate land use plans.
Preliminary draft maps of potential energy corridors are available for public review. The corridor locations shown in these maps are subject to change until they are officially established in August 2007.
See the BLM's Lands and Realty web page for detailed information on BLM ROWs.
Best management practices (BMPs) are innovative, dynamic, and improved environmental protection practices applied to oil and natural gas drilling and production to help ensure that energy development is conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. BMPs help to protect wildlife and landscapes as industry works to develop domestic energy sources. Some BMPs are as simple as choosing a paint color that helps oil and gas equipment blend in with the natural surroundings, while others involve cutting-edge monitoring and production technologies. All are based on the idea that the "footprint" of energy development should be as small and as light as possible.
For more information on BMPS, see the BLM BMP website.
See also the Intermountain West Oil and Gas BMP Project website.This project is a joint effort of the Natural Resources Law Center and many project partners to create a searchable database of BMPs for the Intermountain West.
Depending on who owns the land and who owns the minerals (see Key Concepts: Split Estates), oil and gas development may be regulated by federal, state and/or local laws and regulations. For federal lands or minerals, the process can involve all three levels of government. For private or state lands and minerals, the permitting process is mostly state and local, although all development needs to comply with the national environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
The process for developing oil and gas (including coalbed methane) on federal land with federal minerals is a three or four step process:
1. Planning: Most federal oil and gas development is on BLM or Forest Service managed lands and begins with land use plans prepared under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) or the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). In their planning processes, the agencies discuss the impacts of development and decide which lands should be open for what kind of development.
BLM uses the "reasonably foreseeable development" scenario (RFD scenario) to project long-term oil and gas exploration, development, production, and reclamation activity in a defined area for a specified period of time. The RFD scenario projects a baseline scenario of activity assuming all potentially productive areas can be open under standard lease terms and conditions, except those areas designated as closed to leasing by law, regulation or executive order. The baseline RFD scenario is the basis for analyzing the effects that management decisions have on oil and gas activity, and it also provides basic information that is analyzed under various alternatives of NEPA documents. For details on RFD reports, see BLM Instruction Memorandum 2004-089.
To protest a lease sale:
For a copy of the BLM policy, click here.
Congress Short-Circuits Agency Leasing
In late 2006, the 109th Congress withdrew two important wildlife areas from mining and mineral leasing:
For text of the laws, see thomas.loc.gov
2. Leasing: Depending on decisions made in the planning process, BLM offers leases for the mineral estate. BLM holds competitive, oral auctions for oil and gas leases at least quarterly. While BLM actually issues the leases, the Forest Service has to authorize them for the lands they manage. A lease gives an operator the right to explore and develop the mineral in accord with stipulations in the lease. Standard lease stipulations include compliance with federal environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. Special lease stipulations can be added to restrict specific uses of the lease area or the timing of certain activities. Special stipulations might be added to protect wildlife breeding areas. The most stringent stipulations ("no surface occupancy" or NSO stipulations) exclude all exploration and development facilities from the lease area.
3. Plan of Development (POD): If the operator intends to develop a field rather than just a single well, the operator submits a Plan of Development (POD) to BLM. The POD can be used to consolidate infrastructure—roads, pipelines, waste disposal facilities—used to develop a whole well field. BLM is encouraging use of PODs, also called "multiple APD packages," as part of the Bush administrations effort to expedite permit approvals.
4. APD: Finally, the operator files an application for a permit to drill (APD) with BLM. The APD—for a well or group of wells—includes a drilling plan, a surface use plan, and plans for reclamation. BLM or Forest Service may conduct an on-site visit to adjust the development plans or add mitigation measures. Before BLM can approve the APD, the operator must post a performance bond.
BLM requirements for obtaining permit approval and conducting environmentally responsible oil and gas operations are available in the BLM Gold Book — The Surface Operating Standards and Guidelines for Oil and Gas Development.
BLM's revised rules governing permitting of oil and gas operations on federal lands are in On Shore Oil and Gas Order No. 1, effective May, 2007.
For a summary of the most important federal laws and regulations governing oil and gas development, see the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS section.
New Timeframes for Permit Decisions (Sec. 366):
- BLM now has only 10 days to determine if an APD is complete or notify the applicant of deficiencies.
- After an application is complete, BLM has 30 days to issue a permit or defer issuance and notify the applicant of needed changes and agency plans.
- BLM must hold open the application for two years for the applicant to complete all requirements.
- Then, BLM has only 10 days to issue or deny the permit.
DOI to Review Leasing and Permitting (Sec. 361):
- DOI must review current onshore oil and gas leasing and permitting practices, including:
- Offers to lease
- Administrative appeals
- Surface use plans
Improve Management of Federal Leasing (Sec. 362)
- DOI and USDA must ensure timely action on leases and APDs, by
- Ensuring expeditious compliance with environmental and cultural resources laws
- Improving consultation and coordination with the states and public
- Improving data collection and management
- Developing and implementing best management practices
- Developing regulations for processing leases and applications
- Improving inspection and enforcement
Federal agencies are required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and assure compliance with all national environmental laws throughout the oil and gas development process. Compliance includes an assessment of reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures. However, the range of available alternatives and mitigation measures shrinks at each stage of this NEPA review. Once land use plans are adopted and leases issued, the federal land management agencies lose the flexibility to deny mineral development—at least without monetary compensation—or to substantially lessen its impacts.
What "compliance" means, however, has been a major controversy in the Intermountain West for years. This controversy became more heated with the rapid development of CBM. With changes in Forest Service planning rules and passage of the Energy Policy Act, the application of NEPA to oil and gas development is changing - and becoming even more controversial.
BLM provides information and opportunities to comment on management plan revisions on their web sites. See, for example, the Pinedale RMP webpage.
Step 1: Traditionally, both BLM and Forest Service have prepared an EIS while developing a new plan or significant amendments to an existing land management plan. While BLM continues to prepare these EISs, the U.S. Supreme Court in Norton v. SUWA has called into question the enforceability of the plans themselves. Based in part on this Supreme Court ruling, the Forest Service overhauled their planning process and regulations to eliminate most NEPA analysis from their land management planning process. Even when land use plan EISs are available, they may be inadequate to support CBM development as many were prepared before agencies anticipated the extent of CBM development.
Step 2: Many believe that the appropriate time for considering the potential impacts of oil and gas exploration and development in a NEPA document is when BLM proposes to lease public lands for oil and gas purposes. With support of two circuit courts, they believe that leasing, at least without NSO stipulations,
- constitutes an irreversible and irretrievable commitment to permit surface-disturbing activity,
- results in a significant impact on the human environment, and
- preparation of an EIS is, therefore, required.
The Tenth Circuit, with jurisdiction in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, disagrees.
While this disagreement remains unresolved, both agencies generally prepare pre-lease NEPA analysis. In 2004, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) told BLM it must prepare pre-lease environmental impact documentation (an EIS or EA) before issuing oil and gas leases which allow for surface occupancy. Forest Service uses a two-step process for analyzing its areas for leasing, making leasing decisions for specific lands in the second step. Before making these decisions, the agency must determine that it has adequately addressed leasing of the specific lands in a NEPA document and that leasing is consistent with its land and resource management plan.
Step 3: POD, multiple APD, or field developments are an opportunity to address site specific factors in a NEPA analysis as well as to address cumulative impacts of field development. At this stage of permitting, BLM can best evaluate and require consolidation of infrastructure and develop mitigation measures that could reduce environmental impacts. An EA is usually prepared at this step, but large field developments, like the Pinedale Anticline of Wyoming, can be the subject of major—and controversial—EIS analysis.
Step 4: NEPA review at the final well permitting stage is normally limited to site-specific considerations not previously addressed in broader NEPA documents. APD NEPA documents are often tiered off of EISs or EAs prepared for step 1 or 2 (planning or leasing). Preparation of NEPA documents at this stage is also changing with increased use of categorical exclusions from NEPA.
Energy Policy Act of 2005: Categorical Exclusions for Oil and Gas Development
Preparation of NEPA documents at this stage is also changing with increased use of categorical exclusions from NEPA.
- The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created a rebuttable presumption that certain small scale oil and gas development is categorically excluded from NEPA analysis.
- In early 2007, the Forest Service expanded this legislative exclusion by administratively creating a categorical exclusion from NEPA analysis for development of up to four drill sites (each could have multiple wells), one mile of road, and three miles of pipeline in any new oil or gas field. (FS 1909.15, chapter 30, exclusion 17)
- BLM has also proposed more categorical exclusions for geophysical surveys.
|Scoping in Categorical Exclusions:
Even if a project is categorically excluded from NEPA analysis requirements, the Forest Service Handbook (FSH 1909.15, Chapter 10, section 11) requires that the agency "scope out" environmental impacts of their proposed action.
For more details on these steps in the oil, gas and coalbed methane development process, including a discussion of the role of NEPA and opportunities for public involvement in the process, see Western Resource Advocates "Preserving Our Public Lands: A Citizens Guide to Understanding and Participating in Oil and Gas Decisions Affecting Our Public Lands."
For more information on BLM's categorical exclusions, see DOI's Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance web page. For a report criticizing the BLM's interpretation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, see GAO, "Greater Clarity Needed to Address Concerns with Categorical Exclusions for Oil and Gas Development under Section 390 of the Act," GAO-09-872, 9/16/09. At a congressional hearing in September 2011, the GAO reinterated these concerns and released a new report: GAO, "Energy Policy Act of 2005: BLM's Use of Categorical Exclusions for Oil and Gas Development."
In a settlement announced on March 31, 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it would stop the practice of expedited permitting of drilling on public lands without full environmental review. See "Feds halt fast-track drilling," Casper Star-Tribune, 4/1/10. A group of oil and gas industry companies filed suit against the agency in October 2010, demanding that the BLM issue leases no later than 60 days of receiving initial rental and bonus payments.
In a new oil and gas leasing policy released in May 2010, the agency tightened the categorical exclusion allowed by the Energy Act of 2005, adding an "extraordinary circumstances" review screen before applying the categorical exclusion to oil and gas development on BLM lands. See the DOI press release for an overview of the reforms and links to specific policy provisions. In August 2011, however, Federal Judge Nancy Freudenthal granted a nationwide injunction against implementation of the 2010 policy and thus reinstated the expedited review process, concluding that the agency's new position was an "about face" from former practices, and thus necessitates formal rulemaking. See story here. In September 2011, the agency announced that it would commence this rulemaking process.
State permits are required for oil and gas development on federal, state and privately owned lands. State laws vary, but the permitting processes of the state agency—often called a conservation commission—generally govern the location of wells and other facilities and the control of pollutants associated with development. State oil and gas regulatory statutes—called "conservation" statutes—were originally developed to protect the rights of mineral owners to the resource and to prevent waste. Most western states have expanded the statutes in recent years to regulate location, drilling, plugging and abandonment of wells, and, at least to some extent, they protect:
- the rights of surface owners;
- the general public; and
- the environment.
In addition, states frequently have authority to issue federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act permits through their departments of environmental quality and more states (CO, MT, ND, NM, and WY in 2005) have proposed laws to protect surface owners in "split-estate" ownership situations.
Some local governments have also begun to regulate oil and gas development. Cities and counties may have zoning ordinances to designate areas open or closed to development. Some local governments also have ordinances to control conditions of use—controlling noise, location of roads and other operating facilities. Whether or not a local government has the power to regulate development depends on what kind of regulation it is, what power they are given by state law, and whether state or federal law has "preempted" local regulation. For example, cities and counties cannot "zone out" development on federal lands within their boundaries, although federal land management agency planning rules may require coordination of agency projects with local land use plans.
Similarly, state law can preempt local regulation if the state legislature has given an agency broad power over oil and gas development. The result is that local governments may be able to more tightly control oil and gas development—especially the environmental impacts of development—if the state legislature has not explicitly given broad power to a state oil and gas regulatory agency or commission.
|Oil and Gas Operation Exemptions: Will all states follow the federal relaxation of controls?
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 broadened exemptions for oil and gas exploration and development from Clean Water Act stormwater permit requirements. Despite this federal legislation, the state of Colorado decided in January 2006 to continue to enforce its more stringent regulations requiring operators to get stormwater permits for one to five acre construction sites.
For more information on the federal requirements see Controversies: Oil and Gas Exemptions from Clean Water Act.
In Colorado, oil and gas development is regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) created by the Oil and Gas Conservation Act. The COGCC's original function was exclusively development oriented, focusing on increasing production by preventing oil and gas waste. In 1984, the Colorado legislature directed the COGCC to adopt rules to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the general public with respect to oil and gas wells. In 1994, the Colorado legislature expanded the Commission role again, charging the COGCC to adopt measures to "prevent and mitigate significant adverse environmental impacts on any air, water, soil, or biological resource resulting from oil and gas operations." In updating the law, the Colorado legislature did not specifically preempt local regulation of oil and gas production, and declared that the act was not intended to affect the existing land use authority of local governmental entities.
In 2007, the legislature expanded the COGCC to include nine members. Two don’t have voting rights: the executive directors of the Colorado Departments of Natural Resources and Health and Environment. The law also requires the seven voting members to include one with environmental or wildlife protection experience, one with soil conservation or reclamation experience, one with experience in agricultural production who also is an oil or gas royalty owner, and a county commissioner. The other two must have experience in the oil and gas industry. A bill before the 2011 Colorado legislature (H.B. 1223) would return the COGCC to seven members, five of whom would have substantial experience in the oil and gas industry.
Since 1994, COGCC has enacted regulations regarding water quality standards, reclamation, safety, and financial security requirements and the State's Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) implements the major environmental laws with which oil and gas operations must comply. In 2007, the Colorado legislature expanded the COGCC to include more environmental interests and enacted the Colorado Habitat Stewardship Act to plan and manage oil and gas operations in a manner that balances development with wildlife conservation. In early 2009, the COGCC adopted new regulations that:
- Require the oil and gas industry to consider threats to human health and wildlife at the time a company applies for a permit.
- Establish protection zones around streams situated in watersheds that provide drinking water supplies.
- Require companies to tell state and emergency responders what chemicals they use in drilling operations.
- Allow state health and wildlife officials to formally consult on oil and gas development applications.
- Require that an oil or gas well site be cleaned up to general health standards, once the industrial activity is completed.
- Set limits on odors where oil and gas development is occurring near homes and schools in northwestern Colorado.
- Manage erosion and limit water pollution from oil and gas operations during storms and snow run-off seasons.
- Require landowner notification and public comment periods for development proposals.
- Allow industry operators to submit large-scale development plans aimed at expediting or eliminating certain permit reviews.
The rules grandfather most existing operations and will be phased in over several months, taking effect in April on private land and in May on federal land.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS: Colorado section for a summary of Colorado law related to oil and gas development.
State laws--and small staff--muzzle would-be watchdog
by Jennie Lay, High Country News, March 7, 2005
- The Commission's mission to facilitate oil and gas production can conflict with requirement to protect the public's health, safety and welfare
- New Commission rules allow landowners to request an on-site inspection
- State staff is overwhelmed with workload
- An unsuccessful bill in 2005 would have required operators and landowners to reach agreement before drilling
Local communities in Colorado have been the most active in the intermountain West in their attempts to regulate oil and gas development beyond that of their state oil and gas commission. Colorado communities that have regulations on oil and gas development range from the metro-Denver communities of Denver, Aurora, and Lafayette, to more rural Front Range communities like Greeley and Frederick. Colorado communities have, with mixed success, tried to regulate traditional oil and gas development since the early 1990s. More recently, the proliferation of CBM development in the San Juan Basin of southern Colorado prompted counties, notably Las Animas and LaPlata, to adopt comprehensive land use regulations governing oil and gas activity.
Whether these types of regulations are enforceable has been very controversial and is not completely settled. In 1992, before the legislature gave the COGCC its broader mandate, the Colorado Supreme Court decided that state law had given counties authority to regulate land use aspects of oil and gas operations and that the Oil and Gas Conservation Act had not preempted that power. On the other hand, the court made it clear that cities could not totally ban drilling within their city limits. Because oil and gas development was "of concern" to both the state and local government, both levels of government could regulate, but local government ordinances could not conflict with state regulations. Whether there is a conflict between state and local regulations—a conflict that the state regulations would win—has to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Recent litigation has provided some more guidance to Colorado communities, although many questions still remain. In a 2002 decision, Colorado courts found that even the 1994 law revisions did not completely trump a town's ability to pass effective ordinances. The court found some of the Town of Frederick's provisions invalid, however, because the town tried to regulate the "technical aspects" of development or otherwise conflicted with state regulations.
The court ruled that Frederick could:
The court also ruled that Frederick could not:
The court has also laid out some limits for the state, invalidating a state regulation that said that a state-authorized permit to drill would trump any conflicting local governmental permit or land use approval process. The court said that this state regulation went too far and would have allowed oil and gas operators to disregard even appropriate local land use regulation. Legal challenges to Las Animas County's oil and gas regulations were settled out of court with the county agreeing to amend its regulations significantly. Those new regulations include requirements for county permits for both major and minor oil and gas facilities, including performance standards for setbacks, visual impacts, water, wildlife, waste disposal, etc., and provisions for fees, enforcement and fines for violations.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS section for local government codes and other materials related to oil and gas development in Colorado.
The Colorado Legislature recently approved new oil and gas rules for the state, conducting the required legislative review of rulemaking by the COGCC, and Governor Ritter signed the law authorizing the new rules in late April, 2009. In late June, 2009, state and federal officials negotiated an agreement for application of the state rules on federal lands. See "Feds, Colo. hash out agreement on oil, gas rules," Denver Post, 7/2/09.
In April, 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that coalbed methane gas wells must get water-well permits, meaning that energy companies must prove to the that their drilling will not interfere with senior water rights in that state. If the CBM wells do affect water supplies, the drilling companies must provide a plan for increasing those supplies. See "Drilling requires water permits," Denver Post, 4/21/09. In response, oil companies and others have begun filing applications for permits to use the produced water. See "Gas groups start filing for water rights," Durango Herald," 1/31/10.
For a story about the interaction of state and federal laws regarding oil and gas development in Colorado, see "Bumpy road for Colorado towns using state, fed rules to control drilling," Denver Post, 4/19/12.
In Montana, the legislature established the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (MBOGC) in 1953 with the passage of the Montana Oil and Gas Conservation Act. The Board consists of seven members, three of whom must be from the oil and gas industry, and two of whom must be landowners residing in oil- or gas-producing counties in the state. The MBOGC primarily serves to prevent waste of oil and gas, encourage maximum efficient recovery of the resources, and protect mineral owners' right to recover their fair shares. In addition, MBOGC can take measures to prevent contamination of or damage to surrounding land caused by drilling operations. These measures include, but are not limited to, regulating the disposal of produced salt water and the disposal of oil field wastes. Under Montana law, no oil or gas exploration, development, production, or disposal well may be drilled until MBOGC issues a drilling permit. The state has also adopted special rules on coalbed methane development, including drilling wells in the Powder River Basin Controlled Groundwater Area.
The Montana Environmental Policy Act requires state agencies to complete environmental analyses similar to those required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Montana Board of Environmental Review has also promulgated rules to control pollution related to oil and gas development. One controversial rule essentially bans the discharge of coalbed methane water with high SAR and EC values into Montana waters to prevent water quality degradation. In December of 2008, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed state groundwater quality control standards imposed on coalbed methane. And in 2010, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that evaporation ponds used to hold billions of gallons of pumped groundwater violate a provision of the state constitution requiring that such water be put to a beneficial use. The Montana Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the state Department of Environmental Quality violated state and federal environmetnal laws in approving an exploration company to pump untreated water used in coalbed methane production into the Tongue River. See "Court revokes coalbed methane company's permits," Montana Standard, 5/20/10.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS: Montana section for a summary of Montana law related to oil and gas development.
Montana counties and municipalities have authority to adopt local ordinances and zoning regulations necessary to promote the general welfare of their citizens, although only Gallatin County has adopted such regulations for oil and gas. In general, Montana law does not allow local governments to make resolutions or rules that prevent the complete use, development, or recovery of any mineral, forest or agricultural resource. While this does not preclude all local regulation of mineral processing or extraction—local governments can impose reasonable conditions on application approvals—land use and zoning ordinances must allow effective utilization of mineral resources. In exceptional circumstances, counties can adopt interim zoning maps or regulations—including moratoriums on mineral developments—as emergency measures to promote public health, safety, morals and public welfare.
Bozeman Pass--Bridger Mountains
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition has produced When CBM Comes to Your Community, a citizens' handbook with tools and methods for regulating coalbed methane development. To download or order a copy, see the GYC website at www.greateryellowstone.org.
With proposals for coalbed methane development in the area, Gallatin County has been the Montana test case for local regulation. Under its land use and zoning authority, the county considered an application from J.M. Huber for a conditional use permit that would have allowed the company to drill an exploratory coalbed methane well east of Bozeman in the Bridger Canyon Zoning District. But the permit included a long list of conditions; Huber objected to many of these conditions; and the county ultimately denied the permit. Huber is contesting this denial in both state and federal court. One of Huber's suits also charges that the county's denial of their permit is a "taking" of their mineral right and that Huber must be compensated for it.
In 2002, the county invoked its emergency powers to establish a two-year interim emergency zoning district. This Bozeman Pass district, also near Bridger Canyon, covered high potential oil and gas areas-areas with coal deposits-that were not already included in existing zoning districts. The county also declared a moratorium on all permits for oil and gas wells in this emergency district. During the moratorium period, which expired with the emergency district in August 2004, the community worked with the Sonoran Institute to develop a permanent zoning district-the Bozeman Pass Zoning District, which set tough new standards for oil and gas development in the area. In 2006, Huber relinquished four CBM leases in the area.
In recent years, Montana has been engaged in a legal battle with Wyoming over discharges of water from oil and gas operations in Wyoming that impact waters in Montana. Montana adopted water quality standards to restrict these discharges, and the EPA approved the strict standards. In October, 209, however, a federal court remanded the rules for reconsideration, holding that the agency did not give the water quality standards a full review when it approved them in 2003 and 2008.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Act (O&G Act) like many similar state statutes, focuses on preventing the waste of oil and gas resources. The act gives authority over all matters related to conservation of these resources to the Oil Conservation Division (OCD) of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the Oil Conservation Commission (OCC). This authority includes, according to OCD rules, protection of public health and the environment. State permits for drilling set out spacing requirements for drill pads, regulate disposal of wastes (including injection of produced water), and describe the standards for abandonment and reclamation of wells. The agency regulations also cover bonding requirements which are often linked to the depth of the wells.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS: New Mexico section for a summary of New Mexico law related to oil and gas development.
At least four New Mexico cites have ordinances regulating oil and gas development: Aztec, Carlsbad, Farmington, and Lovington. City ordinances include requirements for obtaining a permit from the city, bonding, local review of the location of wells and structures, and some specifications for drilling practices. As in other states, however, New Mexico law can preempt a local government's ability to regulate either by clearly stating the intention to do so or if the state law and local government's ordinance conflict. New Mexico courts have not, however, specifically addressed whether local governments have exceeded authority in this area. Several New Mexico counties are also developing ordinances related to oil and gas development, including Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties. N.M Gov. Richardson ordered the OCD to develop special rules to reinforce Santa Fe County's regulations.
The O&G Act does not appear to explicitly preclude all local regulation because it only gives the OCD exclusive authority over matters related to conservation of oil and gas, not all development of oil and gas. In addition, New Mexico law gives counties and municipalities the authority to regulate and restrict the location and use of buildings, structures and land for industry and other purposes. Furthermore, in a similar area of law, the New Mexico supreme court has upheld county and municipal authority to enact zoning and land use ordinances to promote the health, safety, and general welfare of their citizens related to mining. In this context, the court decided that state law does not preempt local ordinances if neither the state law nor the agency's regulations mention traditionally local development issues such as traffic congestion, increased noise, compatibility of the mining with the use made of surrounding lands, appropriate distribution of land use and development, and the effect of the activity on surrounding property values. Since the O&G Act does not mention these issues either, it is likely that New Mexico courts would allow local governments some leeway to regulate oil and gas development. What local regulations will be found valid, if challenged, will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
In Utah, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining and its related technical and administrative agency, the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) regulate oil and gas development. The Board's powers include regulation and enforcement related to drilling, testing, completing, operating, producing, and plugging wells; spacing and location of wells; and disposal of salt water and field wastes. Utah law requires operators to take all reasonable precautions to avoid polluting lands, streams, reservoirs, natural drainage ways, and underground water. The Board's rules encourage the development of "surface use agreements" with landowners. If the landowner and operator do not reach an agreement, DOGM will establish minimum well site restoration requirements that must be met before the agency will release the operator's bond.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS: Utah section for a summary of Utah law related to oil and gas development.
The Utah legislature has also authorized cities and counties to enact all measures necessary to promote the general health, safety, morals, and welfare of their citizens. A few counties have done so for oil and gas development, but Utah courts have not as yet reviewed their validity. As in other states, ordinances could be found invalid if the legislature has passed comprehensive state legislation or local regulations conflict with state law. The Utah Oil and Gas Conservation Act of 1983 is fairly comprehensive—stating that one of its purposes is "to provide exclusive state authority over oil and gas exploration and development" as regulated by the Act. "Exclusive state authority" might not, however, extend to matters of purely local concern such as traffic congestion, noise, and compatibility with surrounding uses, that are not specifically addressed by the law. One DOGM rule even explicitly recognizes the role of local governments, specifying that disposal of waste, including produced water, must be done in compliance with both federal and local regulations or ordinances. Carbon County, which includes both traditional oil and gas and coalbed methane development, provides an example of local regulation in Utah. The county requires that wells on private land meet zoning requirements and that operators obtain conditional use permits for development in the more sensitive zoning categories. Conditions of those permits range from requirements for controlling dust, weeds and odors to fencing and lining produced water ponds.
Wastewater goes unwatched
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission (WOGCC) is composed of the governor, the director of the office of state lands and investments, the state geologist, and two additional members from the public appointed by the governor. WOGCC has the authority to require drilling, casing, and plugging of wells in order to prevent escape of oil or gas, bonding for plugging dry or abandoned wells, and monitoring of well performance. WOGCC has the authority to regulate, for conservation purposes, the drilling, producing and plugging of wells, the shooting and chemical treatment of wells, well spacing, disposal of salt water and drilling fluids and development, and the contamination or waste of underground water. In addition, WOGCC has a duty to prevent the waste of natural gas and to keep it from polluting or damaging crops, vegetation, livestock, and wildlife. WOGCC rules require that, owners and operators not pollute streams, underground water, or unreasonably damage or occupy the surface of the leased premises or other lands. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) regulates surface discharge for wastewater disposal through rules created by a Governor-appointed council.
See the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project LAWS: Wyoming section for a summary of Wyoming law related to oil and gas development.
|WY Governor has the Last Word
While WDEQ and the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council can make and implement rules, the Governor can approve or reject them. In May 2007, the Governor rejected new rules, prompted by an environmental lawsuit, that would have required that water discharged from CBM operations be suitable for agricultural purposes.
A subsequent version of the rules failed review by out-of-state experts, who deemed them "not reasonable nor scientifically valid." The DEQ announced in September 2009 that it would withdraw the proposed rules and start over, a move supported by the Governor.
Like other states, Wyoming cities and counties have zoning and planning authority that can be used to regulate oil and gas development. The authority of Wyoming counties is more restricted than that of its cities and towns. Cities can regulate construction or use of buildings and land for various reasons, including promoting health and general welfare and encouraging the most appropriate use of land throughout the city or town. Zoning regulations for the City of Gillette, for example, define oil, gas and mineral exploration and production activities as "permitted uses" within the agricultural or heavy industrial districts within the city. Gillette requires a permit to drill wells which the city will issue if it is satisfied that there will be no hazard to the general public and that no undue nuisance will be created.
Powder River Basin wastewater controversy
A district court in Wyoming decided in March 2006 that surface owners cannot necessarily be forced, without legal recourse or monetary compensation, to accept coalbed methane water produced from upstream wells. In this case, the rancher didn't want the water because it might change the natural character of the ephemeral waterway and ruin the creek bottom where his cattle graze. Williams Production argued that the rancher can't refuse the water because it becomes "waters of the state" when the company discharges it to a natural watercourse. The judge decided that the ephemeral drainage was not a "natural watercourse."
If they still want to discharge the water, Williams Production could either appeal the decision or proceed with condemnation efforts to allow their discharge. Ranchers and conservationists hope that the decision will help in their effort to force the state to require truly beneficial uses of coalbed methane produced water.
READ MORE >>
Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Field air quality concerns
Following health warnings regarding high ozone levels issued by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, county officials, citizens and environmental groups are calling for a health impact assessment to help guide development of the two major gas fields in Sublette County.
Counties can also regulate structures and land use, but no county zoning resolution or plan may prevent any use necessary to the extraction or production of mineral resources. Each Wyoming county is unique in its treatment of oil and gas development and the rules are in flux. For example in coalbed methane territory, the Campbell County code explicitly exempts extraction of oil, gas, coal, or other minerals from building permit requirements and Converse county does not have zoning regulations. Johnson county, on the other hand, developed a land use plan in early 2004 to be followed by zoning regulations and zoning designations. The plan and regulations will help the county address noise, dust and visual impacts, damage to roads and other county facilities, placement of infrastructure, air and water discharges and pollution, and reclamation of oil and gas development. As other counties revise their plans, conservation organizations like the Powder River Basin Resource Council will undoubtedly be recommending changes to better address oil and gas development. Even Governor Dave Freudenthal has asked county commissioners if they are interested in gaining more authority over oil and gas development.
In May 2009, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled against two ranching families who argued the state should do more to regulate water produced by coal-bed methane wells. The Court's opinion stated that the ranchers lack standing not because the state necessarily has managed CBM water correctly, but because the ranchers failed to show how any state failure to do so has caused specific harm to their property. See "Ranchers lose CBM suit in Wyoming Supreme Court," Casper Star Tribune, 5/7/09. But in March 2010, the state Department of Environmental Quality issued a more favorable decision for ranchers, agreeing to review a permit issued to Stephens Energy Company that resulted in discharge of salty water that destroyed a hay meadow and cottonwood trees on a Powder River Basin ranch. See "Wyo ranchers prevail in state CBM water case," Casper Star-Tribune, 3/13/10.
In an effort to sort out environmental and property right concerns, a new working group convened in December 2009 at the request of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. See "New group tackles CBM water issues," Casper Star-Tribune, 12/1/09. For a story about how new treatment options may address problems of produced water, see "Oil and gas producers seek new water solutions," WyoFile, 12/7/10.
The University of Wyoming's Ruckelshaus Institute and School of Energy Resources convened the "Energy Resources and Produced Waters Conference: Water Quality, Management, Treatment, and Use" in May 2010. For coverage of the discussions, see "There are a lot of tangled issues," Casper Star-Tribune, 5/27/10. Conference materials and videos are available here.
A March 2011 WyoFile story described how many coalbed methane wells in the Powder River Basin have been idled in recent years due to low natural gas prices. Some wells have been abandoned ("orphaned") as their operators have gone bankrupt, leaving the state potentially liable for plugging them and ensuring that they do not become an environmental hazard. For a 2013 story on the same subject, see "Orphaned oil and gas wells on the rise in Wyoming," WyoFile, 5/9/13. See also "Wyoming lawmakers grappling with 1,200 orphaned coal-bed methane wells," Casper Star-Tribune, 5/16/13.
For more information on specific state and local regulations, see Links: Other Resources: Natural Resources Law Center at the end of the Oil and Gas section.
Evolving Federal Policies
Federal policies toward oil and gas development evolve with transitions to new presidential administrations. Although Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar pledged that his agency was not "anti-oil-and-gas," he has taken steps to curtail energy development on public lands in and near ecologically sensitive areas. See below for a discussion of the measures taken to reduce impacts on adjacent protected areas.
For a critique of this administration's protective policies, see the analysis prepared by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States. For Secretary Salazar's response to this criticism, see "Energy, trade groups spreading 'untruths,' Salazar says," New West, 11/24/09. A DOI report released in March 2011 challenged complaints about restrictive federal policies, noting that just over half of the federal lands currently leased for oil and gas development are sitting idle. In response, Senate Democrats introduced "use it or lose it" legislation (S. 600), aiming to impose an escalating fee on the oil and gas companies that hold leases they’re not actively using. The report is summarized at the 3/29/11 White House Blog. For a discussion of findings related to Wyoming, see "Report: nearly half of Wyo oil and gas lease acreage inactive," Casper Star Tribune, 3/30/11. For an updated analysis of the role of federal policy on oil and gas development in Wyoming, see "Are feds slowing oil and gas permitting?" WyoFile, 6/28/11. And for an opinion piece about the policy choices reflected in the current natural gas boom, see "Make sure shale-gas boom doesn't go bust," Christian Science Monitor, 1/26/12.
Close on the heels of the massive BP Gulf oil spill, the Interior Department published its polcy reforms for onshore oil leasing in May 2010. Focused on the BLM, the new policy will require more detailed environmental reviews, more public input, and less reliance on a provision to streamline leasing on public lands.
Also in response to the Gulf oil spill, Secretary Salazar announced on May 18, 2010 that the Department of the Interior's minerals leasing structure would change signficantly. The former Minerals Management Service, criticized for its close relationship with industry, was divided into three agencies: Office of Natural Resources Revenue (royalty collection); Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (leasing oversight for offshore operations); and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (regulating offshore oil and gas operations).
A recent article written by the program director and staff attorney of the Wyoming Outdoor Council concludes that the BLM's institutional culture and close relationship with industry have compromised its ability to enforce existing regulations to protect the environment. The agency, contends author Bruce Pendery, has a "strong cultural built-in perspective that once a lease has been granted that [the leaseholders] get to develop it" and that BLM does not "have much say in the matter."
In July 2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report critical of how the BLM has dealt with oil and gas lease protests. The GAO recommended that the agency take steps to standardize the way its state offices report protest information to the public and increase both the transparency of leasing decisions and the timeliness of lease issuance. The GAO subsequently included the Department of the Interior on a list of "high-risk" agencies in a February 2011 report, raising concerns about the DOI's ability to manage oil and gas leases while simultaneously overhauling the agencies and offices responsible for oversight. Also in February 2011, the GAO issued a report critical of the DOI's oversight of oil and gas revenues from public lands, citing a number of technological shortfalls and management failings that have resulted in billions in lost royalties.
Hydraulic fracturing is high pressure injection of fluids into a well to crack the rock. Energy companies use the process to increase the flow of oil, gas, and CBM to production wells, allowing them to extract more than they could using conventional drilling techniques. While the value of hydraulic fracturing for production is clear, its impact on groundwater is controversial.
July 2011 the nonprofit Resources for the Future announced that it has
received a $1.2 million grant to study the dangers involved in hydraulic
fracturing. Click here for RFF's news release describing the study. A report prepared
by an energy-focused investment bank in July 2010 concluded that an
outright ban on fracking is unlikely because of "the scientific evidence
available today and the economic impact of shutting down shale gas
drilling," but predicted that industry should expect tighter regulations
and higher compliance costs in the future.
The Federal Role
Until summer 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulated hydraulic fracturing because it was considered "underground injection" under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In June 2004, EPA released a study concluding that there is no strong link between hydraulic fracturing and pollution of underground drinking water supplies. Yet an EPA environmental engineer challenged the findings and methodology of the study, and correspondence between the Vice President's office and the agency shows that EPA officials urged the administration to consider ongoing scientific study into whether the practice could contribute to groundwater contamination. Following urgings of Democratic lawmakers, the EPA Inspector General decided to investigate complaints that the Bush administration has ignored scientific studies that show the fracturing threatens drinking water supplies. Nonetheless, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 included a provision (Section 322) that redefines "underground injection" under the Safe Drinking Water Act to exclude hydraulic fracturing.
In response to concerns about health impacts of this practice, Rep. Diana DeGette (D) of Colorado introduced legislation in the 111th Congress (H.R. 2766) that would have repealed the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing and force energy companies to reveal the contents of the fracturing fluids. At a hearing, Rep. DeGette proposed an amendment that would require companies to tell regulators the "chemical constituents" in their fracturing fluid, but not the formula for how those chemicals are mixed together. She then withdrew it, saying she planned to negotiate the issue further with industry representatives. Several House and Senate Democrats in March 2011 reintroduced the "Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act" (FRAC Act, H.B. 1084), which would have repealed the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water
Act and required public disclosure of chemicals used in the process.
The spending bill funding environmental agencies for fiscal year 2010 included a measure that called on U.S. EPA to conduct a new study on the risks of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies. See "The Halliburton Loophole," New York Times, 11/2/09. In February 2010, two congressional leaders sent inquiries to companies that work in the business requesting information on the chemicals used in the process, citing the need for further information to determine if current regulations are sufficient.
Responding to this controversy and the pending congressional mandates, in March 2010, the EPA launched a study of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies. In February 2011, the EPA went further, releasing a draft plan to research the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of water supplies through the fracking process and disposal. See "EPA wants to look at full lifecycle of fracking in new study," ProPublica, 2/9/11. Click here for the full study plan, announced in November 2011. The EPA expects to release a final report in 2014. In June 2011, the EPA announced the sites in which studies will take place, including Killdeer and Dunn counties in North Dakota and Las Animas County in Colorado. For more information on the study process, see the EPA's Hydraulic Fracturing web page. In testimony before a Senate committee in October 2011, EPA's director of drinking water and surface water indicated the agency's intention to enact rules for treating wastewater discharged from hydraulic fracturing operations. See "EPA plans to issue rules covering fracking wastewater," ProPublica, 10/20/11.
On November 30, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Salazar announced that
his department would consider a new rule that would require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. He did not indicate a timeline for the release of the new rule. In January 2011, 46 House Democrats sent a letter supporting this regulation to Secretary Salazar. And, in April 2011, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report detailing hydraulic fracturing products--which include a surprisingly wide array of toxic and "junk" materials.
Within the Department of Interior, the BLM began developing regulations for hydraulic fracturing to recover natural gas from onshore public lands, addressing impacts on water resources and the composition of chemicals used in the process. The agency planned to release draft regulations by December 2011, but that deadline passed without any new regulations. Finally, in May 2012, the agency released a draft rule which would require disclosure of chemicals within a month of the fracturing job, as well as assurance that wells will not leak and that excess water can be managed. Yet in January 2013, the BLM announced that it would scrap the draft rule and start over, "in response to comments from stakeholders and the public." The BLM released its updated draft rule in May 2013. (Click here for DOI press release dated May 16, 2013, and here for a New York Times story on the draft rule.) The 2013 draft rules would:
- require disclosure of chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing on public lands, with some exceptions for proprietary information
- verify that the fluids used during fracturing operations do not contaminate groundwater
- ensure that operators have a water management plan in place to deal with fluids that flow back to the surface
- allow states to propose their own standards if they can prove that they meet or exceed the BLM's requirements (this last provision is new in the updated rules)
In July 2011, the EPA announced plans to impose new restrictions on the emissions from oil and gas wells, particularly those related to hydraulic fracturing. The proposed rules would require companies to capture methane, a major greenhouse gas, as well as several cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene. Click here for information on the EPA website. On May 4, 2012, the EPA released proposed guidelines for hydraulic fracturing with diesel.
Acknowledging the likely increase in oil and gas development to achieve domestic energy needs, the
DOE announced its own study of hydraulic fracturing in May
2011. See "Energy Dept. panel to revise standards for gas extraction,"
New York Times, 5/6/11. The outside panel of advisors released its 90-day interim report in August 2011. For a review of the interim report by the Center for American Progress, see "'Fracking' responsibility: New report on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas strikes the right balance," 8/11/11.
On April 13, 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order calling for greater coordination among ten agencies on hydraulic fracturing programs and regulation. Among other things, the order creates a task force to identify areas of synergy among agencies dealing with unconventional petroleum resources. The move was applauded by the oil and gas industry, as a step toward streamlining the many studies and regulatory proposals outlined above, and facilitating more development. See Politico story on the order and its implications.
Another avenue to address the impacts of hydraulic fracturing is the environmental review process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On March 31, 2013, a federal judge in California ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management must prepare a full environmental impact statement before leasing oil and gas for development using hydraulic fracturing. The court found that the BLM's pre-leasing Environmental Assessment provided an inadequate analysis of the potential impacts.
Colorado counties are split in their opinions of federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing. See, e.g., "Garfield County: No rules on fracing," Durango Herald News, 11/12/09; "Transparency at center of fracking debate," Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, 1/23/11. Colorado's oil and gas laws, updated in 2007, require companies to maintain a well-by-well chemical inventory for the life of the well plus five years. The 2011 Colorado General Assembly considered, but did not pass, a bill (H.B. 1172) that would have required state agencies to review an upcoming federal study to determine the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. In December 2011, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission approved new regulations that requires companies to reveal the content of hydraulic fracturing fluids. See "Colorado approves rule requiring disclosure of frack fluid chemicals," Denver Post, 12/13/11.
Wyoming lawmakers announced opposition to federal regulation in 2009, but in June 2010 the state regulatory commission adopted new rules requiring oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Gov. Freudenthal directed the commission to draft the rules as a way to assure federal regulators that Wyoming is adequately regulating hydraulic fracturing. See "Wyoming fracking rules point the way for public disclosure," E&E Daily (reposted on WyoFile), 12/28/10. In March 2012, several environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the WOGC, claiming that the Commission's decision to protect some companies' information as trade secrets was overly lenient. See "Wyoming regulators wrong to guard fracking fluid contents, groups claim," Casper Star-Tribune, 3/27/12; "Wyoming's fracking chemical disclosure requirements draw lawsuit," WyoFile, 4/3/12.
The 2011 Montana legislature briefly considered, but then killed, a bill (S.B. 86) that would require disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals; Montana's Board of Oil & Gas drafted and enacted disclusure rules in the fall of 2011 (see Great Falls editorial praising this move here). Idaho, facing new proposals for hydraulic fracturing, is considering its options for regulation as well. See "Idaho gas project gets new wrinkle: A plan to change the drilling process has Payette County worried," Idaho Statesman, 2/10/11.
In 2013, the California Legislature considered a variety of bills aimed at regulating hydraulic fracturing. For a summary of the legislative proposals, see "Bills seek tighter control of fracking," Californian.com, 3/11/13. In April 2013, Berkeley Law released a report titled "Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing in California: A Wastewater and Water Quality Perspective," which was reviewed in an aricle on Legal Planet on 4/11/13.
- EPA, Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs.
- The Oil and Gas Accountability Project has produced its own report criticizing the EPA study.
- A congressional inquiry initiated in February 2010 and concluded early in 2011 revealed that oil companies have injected diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing practices in more than a dozen states, apparently in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. See "Gas drilling technique labeled violation," New York Times, 1/31/11. At a congressional hearing on this issue in April 2011, a senior EPA official stated that injection of diesel fuel is illegal without a permit, but industry officials responded that there is no process in place to obtain such a permit.
- For a detailed story about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing in Wyoming, see "Fuel Factories: Communities at Risk," WyoFile, 2/24/11. See also "Chemicals injected into wells, report says," New York Times, 4/17/11, and "Unpacking health hazards in fracking's chemical cocktail," High Country News, 2/21/11.
- For a story about one Wyoming rancher's experience with the water quality impacts of hydraulic fracturing, see "Hydrofracked? One man's mystery leads to a backlash against natural gas drilling," ProPublica, 2/25/11.
- A joint project of the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission, FracFocus provides information about chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and related educational resources.
- For a map showing areas of high fracking activity or potential, see Earthjustice's "Fracking Across the United States."
- "Regulation lax as gas wells' tainted water hits rivers," New York Times, 2/27/11.
- "Drilling down on fracking concerns," Center for American Progress, 3/21/11.
- Download the July 2011 issue of the American Water Resources Association's magazine, IMPACT, focused entirely on hydraulic fracturing.
- For a story about an EPA report that revealed contamination of groundwater in Wyoming, see "EPA Pavillion report stokes fire over fracking," WyoFile, 12/12/11. A congressional hearing in February 2012 challenged the EPA's methods and conclusions. See "EPA official defends Pavillion fracking report," Casper Star-Tribune, 2/2/12.
- "Industry's fracking problem," WyoFile, 5/8/12, reviews the DOI's proposed rule requiring disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands.
- Western Resource Advocates published a report ("Fracking Our Future") in June 2012, focusing particularly on the amount of water necessary for projected hydraulic fracturing activity and associated community impacts.
- The American Bar Association's Section of Environment, Energy & Resources dedicated its quarterly journal to topics related to mineral extraction, with a strong focus on hydraulic fracturing regulation: Natural Resources & Environment (Winter 2013)
Following a long controversy over oil and gas exemptions from NPDES permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Energy Policy Act of 2005 expanded the CWA definition of "oil and gas exploration and production activities" in order to expand the existing exemption. Many thought that this change would simply exempt relatively small (one to five acre) oil and gas drill site construction activities from CWA stormwater permit requirements. However, in June 2006, EPA finalized new stormwater regulations to implement the change. A number of Senators contended that the EPA rule went beyond Congress' intended change. The Senators argued that EPA's rule incorrectly interprets the 1987 Clean Water Act by excluding sediment contamination as a factor that may cause a normally exempt oil and gas activity to require a stormwater permit. In 2008, following litigation by the NRDC, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the EPA rules, leaving the old rules and the Energy Policy Act definition in effect.
In October 2011, the EPA announced plans to develop water quality standards for wastewater produced in shale gas production, and will begin a rulemaking process in 2014.
For more information on the rules in effect see EPA's web page.
CBM Effluent Guidelines
EPA has initiated a study to determine if the agency should develop effluent guidelines to control pollutants discharged in CBM produced water.
For details on the study, see the EPA Effluent Guidelines web page.
Conservation groups sued the Bureau of Land Management on December 17, 2008, claiming that the agency is failing to address global warming pollution produced by oil and gas development on public lands in Montana and North Dakota. The federal lawsuit alleged that the agency violated federal laws by not preparing any environmental analysis to justify the lease sales; relying on nearly 30-year-old decisions, which do not address global warming or the contribution of oil and gas production to global warming; and failing to quantify and reduce greenhouse gas pollution, which contributes to global warming.
In a settlement in early 2010, the BLM agreed to reexamine its leasing program, but in August 2010, the agency released a series of studies that indicated very little impact on climate change, along with a recommendation that the block be lifted for oil and gas leases in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In early January 2011, the BLM lifted suspensions on most of the 61 leases suspended in 2010 and announced that there will be no climate change stipulations to any of the challenged leases. In early February 2011, the environmental groups filed a new lawsuit, claiming that the agency violated NEPA by failing to consider alternatives to ensure that climate-warming gas releases are prevented or abated during oil and gas operations and failing to take a "hard look" at waste and inefficiency.
For a summary of the environmental groups' position and links to background documents, click here. For an op-ed supporting the resource development, see "Coal leasing should be allowed to proceed," Casper Star Tribune, 3/21/11.
Among other provisions, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to complete a programmatic EIS for a commercial leasing program for oil shale and tar sands on public lands, with an emphasis on potential development in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The Department announced leasing rules for the three states in November of 2008, and amended land use plans to allow future lease sales. In January of 2009, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would lift a ban on oil shale leasing in areas that had been temporarily withdrawn from development by President Herbert Hoover through Executive Order No. 5327.
While serving as Colorado's Senator, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar worked to slow the Bush Administration oil shale leasing plans, in part out of concerns over impacts on western water resources. Soon after his appointment to the Interior leadership post was confirmed, he expressed enthusiasm for revisiting the former administration's policies concerning oil shale leasing. See "Salazar says U.S. keeping options open on Roan Plateau," Rocky Mountain News, 2/6/09. Accordingly, on February 25, 2009, Secretary Salazar announced his intention to withdraw nominations of parcels up to 640 acres in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming for 10-year oil shale lease agreements. The Department of the Interior launched a new comment period for input on what conditions should be included in such leases, followed by solicitation of a new round of leases. He emphasized the importance of studying potential impacts on land, water, and wildlife in this process. In October 2009, the Interior Department announced further investigations into actions late in the Bush Administration to secure favorable lease arrangements and royalties for oil shale development. See "Inquiry to focus on royalty rates for oil shale program," New York Times, 10/20/09.
In October 2010, the BLM announced that it had completed preliminary review of three oil shale research and development lease requests in Colorado and Utah, and was sending them on for environmental review. Environmentalists challenged the Department's decision to open BLM lands to oil shale development, claiming that the government had failed to consider effects on wildlife and the potential contributions of oil shale development to climate change and that royalty regulations for oil shale violate laws requiring the government to get fair market value for the sale of its public resources.
In late November 2010, the GAO released a report published in October calling for "a better and more coordinated understanding of water resources" to mitigate impacts of oil shale development. The report predicts that adequate water will be available for early stages of development, but that water may prove a limiting factor for commercial-scale oil shale production in Colorado and Arizona. The magnitude of the potential impact is difficult to estimate, noted the GAO, in part because so little is known about groundwater resources. In addition, the various methods of commercial production demand different amounts of water.
On February 15, 2011, Secretary Salazar announced a federal proposal to settle the lawsuits over oil shale development on public lands in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. The proposed settlement would give the BLM more discretion in awarding oil shale leases and would remove the 5 percent royalty rate approved by the Bush administration. Click here for DOI press release announcing this proposal. Secretary Salazar mentioned the findings of of the November 2010 GAO report on oil shale and water in making this announcement. Pursuant to that settlement, the BLM began work on a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to evaluate impacts of expanding oil shale development throughout the Intermountain West. The agency held scoping meetings in April and May of 2011 in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, where many comments underscored public concerns about largescale development of oil shale and oil sands in the region. The agency released its draft PEIS in February 2012, and will take comments until May 4, 2012. Click here for the BLM's web page on this process. As described in this story, Wyoming Gov. Mead immediately expressed his opposition to the agency's proposal to reduce the amount of land in Wyoming available for oil shale development. See also "4 Colorado counties among critics of plan to limit oil shale land," Denver Post, 5/11/12.
In November 2011, a commission convened by the U.S. Department of Energy (which has no regulatory authority over shale gas) released a report recommending 20 actions that commission members believe are necessary to "assure that the nation's considerable shale gas resources are being developed responsibly, in a way that protects human health and the environment and is most beneficial to the nation." These recommendations will now be considered by agency officials.
For a summary of conflicting views on the potential environmental and other impacts of oil shale development, see "Oil shale industry group assails studies as negative," Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, 4/15/09. For a report summarizing the history of oil shale development in the West, see "What Every Westerner Should Know About Oil Shale," produced by the University of Colorado's Center of the American West (June 2009). in September 2010, Western Resource Advocates released a report ("Fossil Foolishness") criticizing plans to develop oil shale and tar sands. In February 2012, the University of Texas released a report outlining options for fact-based regulation for environmental protection in oil shale development.
A controversial plan to allow oil and gas drilling near national parks in Utah pitted the Bureau of Land Management against the National Park Service and environmentalists. The original sale covered more than 360,000 acres, including parcels near Dinosaur National Monument and Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Environmental groups filed for an injunction in December 2008, arguing that the agency was rushing the environmental review in order to complete the sale before the end of the Bush Administration.
On January 17, 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for Washington granted a temporary restraining order preventing the BLM from finalizing 80 of 131 oil and gas leases sold at auction in December, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the agency had not adequately weighed the potential impacts of the development on adjacent protected areas. See "11th Hour Ruling Blocks Utah Oil and Gas Leases," New York Times, 1/17/09, or see full opinion, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Allred, No. 08-2187, 39 ELR 20018 (D.D.C. Jan. 17, 2009) (Urbina, J.).
On February 4, 2009, Interior Secretary Salazar ordered the BLM to withhold the leases, pending full environmental review of their impacts on protected areas. He also withdrew proposed leases in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, indicating a significant shift in federal policy toward the recent build-up of oil and gas activity on public lands in the West.
Immediately after this withdrawal, a coalition of hunters and anglers filed objections to the BLM's planned oil and gas leases in Utah's West Desert, potentially impacting Great Basin National Park. The group Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development disagrees with the BLM's preliminary finding that drilling wouldn't have significant impacts on the region's wildlife or lands.
In June 2009, the Interior Department issued a report analyzing this controversial lease process and withdrawal. Although it concluded that the original lease process was flawed, it directed the BLM to conduct additional studies to determine if 30 leases should be reinstated.
Secretary Salazar discussed the lease withdrawals in congressional testimony in September, 2009, and announced in October that 52 parcels would be held back pending further study and 17 would be allowed back at upcoming auctions. Litigation ensued by those holding the withdrawn leases. See "Judge, attorney hammer away at Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to pull Utah oil leases," Deseret News, 7/21/10
To complicate matters, an Interior Inspector General's report issued in December 2009 but not released to the public until July 2010 concluded that: (1) BLM supervisors did not pressure employees to finish resource management plans ahead of the controversial December 2008 Utah oil and gas lease sale; but (2) they did contribute to the perception that the lease sale lacked proper environmental reviews by failing to consult adequately with the National Park Service and neglecting to remove parcels after park officials objected to their inclusion.
In a separate controversy, a federal judge in September 2009 blocked oil and gas drilling on a wildlife refuge that sits next to Great Sand Dunes National Park in south-central Colorado. U.S. District Judge Walker Miller ruled that environmental groups presented adequate evidence that drilling would cause irreparable harm to Colorado's Baca National Wildlife Refuge, not only to wildlife but also to the refuge's "significant 'sense of place' and quiet."
For a white paper making the case for more aggressive mitigation measures to address the impacts of energy development on western landscapes, see "The Next Generation of Mitigation: Linking current and future mitigation programs with state wildlife action plans and other state and regional plans," produced jointly by The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Law Institute. Click here to access the executive summary or full report.
In very limited instances, oil and gas development occurs within the boundaries of national parks and other protected areas. In November of 2009, the National Park Service proposed revisions to its regulation of these activities.
In recent years, increasing attention is being directed to the amount of water consumed or otherwise impacted by energy production (as described above in the discussion of coalbed methane water production). At the same time, the energy costs of maintaining reliable water supplies are surprisingly high. According to the California Energy Commission, nearly 20 percent of total electricity and 30 percent of non-powerplant natural gas consumed in California are used to deliver, treat and dispose of water.
A report published in August 2010 concluded that oil shale development may not require as much water as previously thought if the industry uses natural gas rather than coal-fired power plants to heat shale in place. See "Study: Amount of water for oil shale production is less than estimated," Grand Junction Sentinel, 8/4/10.
See also the policy brief titled "Peak Water, Peak Energy, Climate Crisis: The Collision Ahead," Carpe Diem West (February 2010).
Click here for the full report in pdf.
The agenda of a collaborative group can be narrowly tailored to a specific issue or broadly defined. The group's focus can also evolve over time. Two RLCH stories illustrate collaboration in the oil and gas development arena.
The Muddy Creek Coordinated Resource Management project, for example, began in 1991 to address many of the traditional concerns of rural Wyoming - drought, grazing, erosion, and water quality. The CRM project focused on non-contentious issues and created an atmosphere of trust and open communication that resulted in a number of successful initiatives. The area of south-central Wyoming is now confronted with the possibility of extensive coalbed methane development and the collaborative is faced with a decision on whether and how to deal with this highly contentious issue with many new stakeholders.
In contrast, the Trapper's Point/Pinedale working group formed specifically to address oil and gas development in the Pinedale Anticline. In October 2003, local and regional environmental organizations, ranchers, county and industry officials, Wyoming state agencies, and the BLM began meeting to discuss core issues of oil and gas development near Trapper's Point—a half-mile wide natural bottleneck in a critical wildlife migration corridor. While the group continues to focus on oil and gas issues and is still grappling with group process issues, it plans to expand its discussions beyond Trapper's Point. Controversies continue, including a legal challenge filed by environmtalists claiming that the BLM has mishandled its adaptive management program for the Pinedale Anticline.
Collaborative processes often result in an agreement to share resources — with some lands slated for development and others protected for conservation. In rare cases, stakeholders — with the help of Congress — agree to protect an entire area of federal land from oil and gas development. In Montana, the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, Congress, BLM, the Forest Service, and energy companies have worked together to keep oil and gas development out of the Rocky Mountain Front.
In the last days of the 109th Congress, lawmakers passed a permanent moratorium on mineral and geothermal leasing and mining in the Rocky Mountain Front. Title IV, section 403 of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, also provides tax incentives for the sale of existing mineral and geothermal rights to tax-exempt entities.
The Coalition will buy out some of those existing leases on federal lands with the help of funding from the Wyss Foundation. For more information on the Rocky Mountain Front, see the Coalition web site. See also, Coalition buys Front leases, By Sonja Lee, Great Falls Tribune.
New information will be added as the Congress takes action.
Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA)
As amended by the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987, Public Law 100-203
The text of the MLA, as it appears in the U.S. Code, 30 U.S.C. sections 181-287, can be viewed on the Cornell University web site.
READ MORE >>
Energy Policy Act of 2005, Public Law 109-58
The text of the law is available on thomas.loc.gov as HR 6 in the 109th Congress or as P.L. 109-58.
READ MORE >>
Bureau of Land Management - National Energy Office
The web page of the BLM's National Energy Office provides links to a variety of documents including the Bush administration's National Energy Plan, and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) Report, as well as agency policies on split estates, approving applications to drill (APDs) and many other issues.
READ MORE >>
Bureau of Land Management - Oil and Gas Resources
This BLM web page provides links for a wide variety of information on federal oil and gas leasing and operations, including the "Gold Book" of surface operating standards.
READ MORE >>
Energy Information Administration
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy that provides policy-independent data, forecasts, and analyses on energy resources. Information can be searched by several categories: geography, fuels, sector, price, process, environment, forecasts, and analysis.
READ MORE >>
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality web site provides links to federal, state and local regulations applicable to oil and gas development and special rules related to coalbed methane development.
READ MORE >>
Western Resource Advocates
Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is a non-profit environmental law and policy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the natural environment of the Interior American West. The WRA web site includes information on many public lands and water issues.
READ MORE >>
For an introduction to development on oil and gas resources on federal lands, see their report "Preserving Our Public Lands: A Citizens Guide to Understanding and Participating in Oil and Gas Decisions Affecting Our Public Lands."
READ MORE >>
Oil and Gas Accountability Project
The OGAP works with communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West and across the country to reduce the social, economic and environmental problems caused by oil and gas development. OGAP is based in southwestern Colorado.
READ MORE >>
Wyoming Outdoor Council
WOC is Wyoming's leading advocate for natural resources conservation and environmental protection. The organization works on a variety of Wyoming natural resources issues including coalbed methane development.
READ MORE >>
Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC)
WORC is a regional network of seven grassroots community organizations (including Northern Plains Resource Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Western Colorado Congress) that include 9,500 members and 50 local chapters. WORC helps its member groups through training and by coordinating issue work.
READ MORE >>
Read a series of articles about the risks of natural-gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly growing industry. Special focus on hydraulic fracturing and water-quality impacts of oil and gas development.