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Current Issues in Oil & Gas Exploration and Production on Public Lands

Erika Z. Enger, Public Land Law, Regulation, and Management

Introduction: Oil and gas exploration companies operating on public lands are subject to federal regulatory oversight under a wide array of regulations, guidance, formal and informal written instructions, and sometimes ad hoc directives from local officials. Many of these sources are being revised and even overhauled at any given point in time, and navigating the changes can be daunting. The purpose of this paper is to build on previous summaries of regulatory provisions applicable to oil and gas operations on the federal lands and to highlight some significant areas undergoing recent or upcoming changes. This paper assumes that the operator has already completed the processes of procuring a lease, which process has been the subject of numerous other RMMLF articles and papers.

I. Bureau of Land Management Regulations

In developing oil and gas interests under a Federal (or Indian) lease, the operator will be subject to the regulations at 43 CFR Part 3160, “Onshore Oil and Gas Operations”. Originally promulgated in 1942, these regulations were revised and “modernized” into largely their current format in 1982, after the Secretary of Interior created the Minerals Management Service (MMS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).1 The regulations have a stated objective “to promote the orderly and efficient exploration, development and production of oil and gas.