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Appealing Royalty Decisions to the Interior Board of Land Appeals— Putting Your Best Case Forward

Will A. Irwin, James L. Byrnes, Federal and Indian Oil & Gas Royalty Valuation and Management III (2000)

The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) was established as a component of the Office of Hearings and Appeals in 1970.1 In 1973, the U.S. Geological Survey amended its regulations to provide that decisions by the Director of the USGS (later, as of 1982, the Director of MMS) on royalty matters could be appealed further to IBLA.2 These regulations in 30 CFR Part 290 were recently amended on May 13, 1999.3

Historically, MMS royalty appeals have been an important part of IBLA's caseload. In fiscal years 1989-1999, we issued headnoted opinions disposing of a total of 292 royalty appeals. MMS was affirmed in 188 of them, i.e., 64% of the time. In addition, we issued orders disposing of another 65 appeals on the merits; in these summary dispositions MMS was affirmed in 45 appeals, i.e., 69% of the time. So, overall, MMS has been affirmed about 65% of the time. See Appendix A. These statistics, and the fact that Board decisions are reviewed under the arbitrary and capricious standard in 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)4 indicate the importance of putting your client's best case forward at the stage of Board review of MMS royalty decisions.

Since the beginning of fiscal year 2000, we have received 9 appeals from MMS decisions (2 OCS operations cases, and 7 OCS suspension of production cases) and disposed of 31 appeals (24 of the 31 were withdrawn or settled). At the end of Februa