WORC members outline multiple areas of concern and possible illegality associated with the Royalty Policy Committee.
On September 13th, 2018, Ryan Zinke’s industry-stacked Royalty Policy Committee met in Denver, Colorado. WORC was there, represented by Western Colorado Alliance member Barbara Vasquez. WORC Chair Beth Kaeding also sent the following letter outlining our call for transparency within the committee’s decision-making, as well as concerns that the new Notification to Drill pilot program is simply a way to side-step public input on new projects that could affect the health and livelihood of rural communities.
This letter was sent to Acting Chairman Angelle and Members of the Royalty Policy Committee.
This letter provides comments on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, or WORC, and our 15,100 members. WORC is a regional network of eight grassroots community organizations in seven states, including Dakota Resource Council (ND), Dakota Rural Action (SD), Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, Northern Plains Resource Council (MT), Oregon Rural Action, Powder River Basin Resource Council (WY), Western Colorado Alliance, and Western Native Voice (MT).
Many of our members farm and ranch on lands overlying and neighboring federal, state and privately owned oil and gas deposits, and experience numerous impacts due to coal mining, and oil and gas production, transport and processing. WORC and its member groups have a longstanding interest in federal coal and oil & gas policy, and for nearly 40 years have actively engaged in advocacy in these areas.
Balance and Transparency
As we have stated in the past, we remain concerned about the Royalty Policy Committee’s (RPC) failure to provide a fairly balanced and transparent decision-making process, and particularly its failure to make RPC subcommittee and working group meetings and materials available to the public, its failure to provide adequate notice of Committee meetings and materials, its exclusion of categories of public interest representatives from Committee membership and deliberation, and its failure to comply with DOI’s ethics regulations.
In addition, as detailed by WORC’s member group Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC) in their comment letter, many of the agenda items for the RPC’s upcoming meeting do not yet have supporting information available online, and we are concerned that the public comment period at the meeting is scheduled to occur prior to presentations from the subcommittees and the public will have no subsequent opportunity to comment before voting occurs.
These practices limit our ability to provide robust and meaningful comments. We urge the Committee to comply with all statutes, regulations, and agency guidance governing RPC processes.
Notification of Permit to Drill
We have significant concerns about the proposal to implement a Notification of Permit to Drill (NPD) pilot program in place of the current Application for Permit to Drill (APD) for federal onshore oil and gas resources, and the proposal to impose 15 and 45 day time limits on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff review of NPDs.
In our view, the NPD proposal is reflective of the RPC’s narrow perspective and fails to take into account a number of important factors that influence permitting times, as well as the likely results of the proposal. As described in more detail in the comments submitted by PRBRC, we are primarily concerned that the proposed time limits will limit public participation requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at an important juncture when site-specific environmental impacts are known for the first time. The time limits would severely restrict the opportunity for onsite visits with surface landowners. Many of WORC’s members rely on the land for their livelihood, and have long relationships with the land that allows them to offer rich specificities that can inform BLM’s analysis and decision-making, and limit interference with farm and ranch activities, as well as better protecting wildlife and other natural resources. These include, for example, the presence of habitats of species such as bald and golden eagles, locations of floodplains and wetlands, locations of drinking water wells, sharp topography, concerns related to public access, and visual resources worthy of consideration for protection.
Other concerns include:
- In our experience, backlogs in permitting are often the result of incomplete or inaccurate applications from operators. We urge the Committee to look not only at the permitting time, but to also review the actual causes of permitting delays.
- BLM has been under pressure for some time to shorten permitting times and has been making progress. The 2005 Energy Policy Act requires BLM to review permits for completeness within 10 days and to act on permits within 30 days, and BLM has shifted significantly more resources to permitting from other functions since then to reduce permitting time. We are very concerned that automatically approving permits will force BLM to further limit resources for other important BLM functions, such as environmental, operation and recordkeeping inspections and reclamation bond reviews. We urge the Committee to consider how BLM’s resources are currently allocated, whether BLM is meeting other targets (including inspection goals) and what functions would be further limited as a result of this proposal.
- Alternatively, the NPD proposal would result in permits being automatically approved, without sufficient review by BLM, which is unacceptable, and appears to be at odds with 30 USC 226 (g), which states that “No permit to drill may be granted without the analysis and approval by the Secretary concerned of a plan of operations covering proposed surface-disturbing activities within the lease area.” (Emphasis added.)
- Finally, as with a number of previous recommendations on “streamlining” onshore oil and gas leasing and permitting, we question whether the recommendation is beyond the scope of the Committee’s charter.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these comments. If we can provide any additional information to you in advance of your meeting please do not hesitate to ask.
Beth Kaeding, Board Chair