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Drainage Issues Involving Indian Lands

Tim Vollmann, Federal Drainage Protection & Compensatory Royalties (1994)

Indian lands, that is, lands owned by or on behalf of Indian tribes or lands allotted to individual Indians, are inalienable in the absence of a federal statute authorizing a conveyance or lease. There are three statutes which today generally authorize oil and gas lease development of Indian lands, all of them administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) of the Department of the Interior. These statutes have been interpreted as giving the Secretary of the Interior broad authority to regulate oil and gas development on Indian lands pursuant to the federal trust responsibility for Indian natural resources. However, BIA regulations often go into little or no detail on issues which periodically confront the oil and gas lessee or operator. Further, the large body of state statutory and case law which generally governs the oil and gas industry is often inapplicable.

The BIA relies on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for most of the operational responsibility for oil and gas development on Indian lands. But the principal subject of BLM regulations is oil and gas development on federal lands, and they often fail to address issues which are unique to Indian lands. Indian tribes themselves have recently begun to assume a greater role in the regulation of oil and gas development, sometimes supplanting federal agencies pursuant to an Indian Self-Determination Act contract