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BLM Concedes 'Planning 2.0' Could Impact Oil/Gas Industry

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said a proposed rule that would, among other things, increase public involvement in the way it formulates Resource Management Plans (RMP), would not directly affect the decisions it makes but conceded that it could impact the oil and gas industry.

On Thursday, the BLM released a preliminary version of a proposed rule that would change regulations guided by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. The proposed changes, dubbed "Planning 2.0" by the bureau, would change the way it prepares and amends RMPs that guide future BLM decisions on public lands.

Specifically, the BLM is proposing to establish new opportunities for early public involvement in the planning process, and would give the public opportunities to submit data and review preliminary versions of key documents used in the bureau's planning process. It has also proposed requiring a planning assessment before developing a land use plan.

In a 14-page preliminary economic analysis, BLM Senior Economist Rebecca Moore said the proposed rule would affect the bureau's planning process, but would not directly affect the actual decisions made from the process.

"As a result, none of the changes proposed would result in direct monetary impacts on any individual or group. Many of the changes are either editorial or would only affect internal BLM process. These would have no significant economic impact."

But Moore added that "the proposed rule could affect any entity that elects to participate in the BLM's planning process," and listed three industries under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) -- specifically, Oil and Gas Extraction, Drilling Oil and Gas Wells, and Support Activities for Oil and Gas Operations -- as "industries most likely to be directly affected."

According to Moore, BLM estimates "the annual effect on the economy of the regulatory changes would be less than $100 million and would not adversely affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or state, local or tribal governments or communities."

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president for government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), told NGI’s Shale Daily on Friday that the organization was concerned that the new planning process "will just add more NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] layers and make planning even more intractable and time-consuming than it already is.

"There is already a process for public participation with a deliberative role for cooperating agencies, including counties and states, to provide substantive input. BLM's new process could potentially devolve that process away from legitimate representation from local communities and well-considered public comment based on quality analysis and data."

Sgamma added that the WEA would be "reading the proposal carefully and providing input."

The BLM said the proposed rule would also improve its ability to use high-quality information, including the best available science and geospatial data, when it develops RMPs. It would also allow the bureau flexibility in planning across traditional administrative boundaries, give the director of the BLM the discretion to determine future RMP boundaries, and distinguish between RMP components that are mandatory versus those deemed optional.

Another proposed change would revise protest procedures, by providing more detailed information on what constitutes a valid protest issue. Protests could also be submitted electronically.

"By implementing these improvements, the BLM endeavors to enhance the way that it involves the public in its planning efforts, including measures to provide earlier, easier, and more meaningful participation," the bureau said.

Nada Culver, senior director of The Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, lauded the bureau's action.

"This is a game changer, and a much-needed one," Culver said Thursday. "It's time to update the BLM's decades-old planning practices to be responsive to modern challenges and the value so many people place on public lands. The goal of the initiative could make land use planning more dynamic, efficient and collaborative in the face of increasing land use and growing impacts from climate change."

A 60-day public comment period on the proposed rule will begin after its publication in the Federal Register. The BLM said it plans to host a public meeting and a webinar in mid-March to discuss the proposed rule, and will make a separate announcement in the near future on the dates and locations. The bureau said it also plans to consult with Native American tribes on the proposed rule.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land and 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate.

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