Archive for the ‘BLM’ Category

BLM Guidance on Carbon Sequestration

A large, naturally occurring CO2 storage system at Soda Springs, Idaho offers a study system. Photo by Idaho National Laboratory. Some rights reserved.

We have posted previously on the potential for carbon sequestration in the US. Our post earlier this month covered a Department of Energy report on carbon capture and storage potential in the US, identifying 5,700 years of potential storage of CO2 emitted by stationary sources. Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Management issued guidance on proposals for potential carbon sequestration projects on BLM lands, which by its own account make up 5.5 percent of the nation’s carbon sequestration capacity.

The Instruction Memorandum, which details the “processing of land use proposals and permit applications for exploration and site characterization studies,”comes as part of a wave of federal interest in carbon sequestration. In 2009, the Secretary of the Interior urged Congress to establish a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon dioxide underground. In 2010, the President established a task force to overcome barriers to deployment of carbon sequestration within 10 years. BLM director Bob Abbey says in the release that the IM helps achieve Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next forty years.

The new guidelines only cover exploratory activities, though. The IM notes that to resolve the liability and stewardship responsibilities for long-term development projects, new Federal legislation may be required, and that we should expect the BLM and other agencies to issue further guidance on related application and review processes.

The IM posts an online reference for determining an area’s CO2 storage potential, and requires prospective “land use proponents” to meet with the BLM to discuss geologic suitability and potential conflicts with existing uses.

BLM’s Fresh Look at Oil Shale and Tar Sands

Photo by gordasm. Some rights reserved.

Late last week, the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management published a notice in the Federal Register expressing their intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) forAllocation of Oil Shale and Tar Sands Resources on Lands Administered by the BLM in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

This new planning initiative takes a fresh look at a 2008 Programmatic EIS and Record of Decision that opened up more than two million acres of public land for leasing and development of oil shale and tar sands. The BLM “intends to take a hard look at whether it is appropriate for approximately 2,000,000 acres to remain available” for such development.

Last week’s notice kicked off the public input process – input that BLM promises will be a “vital component” of the oil shale development program going forward. Several “scoping” meetings have been scheduled in the areas under consideration, and comments on the project can be submitted here. You can keep a close eye on BLM’s Oil Shale & Tar Sands plans here.

The Oil and Gas Lease Rule That May Put Tim DeChristopher Behind Bars

In 1987, Congress passed the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which established a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases on public lands. The Act dictated procedures for both conducting auctions, as well as requirements for those engaged in the bidding process. But I can almost guarantee that those who penned the original law or the implementing regulations never imagined they’d be violated by the likes of Tim DeChristopher.

Photo from Klearchos. Some rights reserved.

More than two years ago, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was hauled out of a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City after registering to bid and subsequently attempting to drive up prices on parcels of beautiful federal land that were being rushed through the auction process by the Bush administration. DeChristopher left the auction that day having won more than 20,000 acres of land.

DeChristopher was charged with (and later found guilty of) two violations of federal law: one count of violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, and one count of making a false statement when he completed and signed his “Bidder Registration Form.”

A quick review of the original indictment (which seems to have been scanned hastily and may be missing some content) shows the specific provision of the Act that DeChristopher was charged with violating. Subsection (a)(1) under 30 USC Sec. 195, “Enforcement,” reads as follows:

(a) Violations
It shall be unlawful for any person:
(1) to organize or participate in any scheme, arrangement, plan, or agreement to circumvent or defeat the provisions of this chapter or its implementing regulations

The chapter it refers to, of course, is 30 USC Chapter 3A, “Leases and Prospecting Permits,” the codification of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. The establishment of the competitive bidding process can be found in 30 USC Sec. 226, and the more detailed implementing regulations are over in 43 CFR Part 3120.

Violation of 30 USC 195(a)(1) is punishable by 30 USC 195(b), which reads:

Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of subsection
(a) of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $500,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.

DeChristopher’s sentencing has been set for June 23, 2011. For the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act violation together with the false statement conviction, he faces up to ten years of jail time.

The BLM, who hosted the auction, and parent agency DOI have been quiet on the matter. The only public reference to DeChristopher I found was in a February 2009 teleconference, in which Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar affirmed several times that he would not, and could not, comment on the case.

On the DOI’s website, you can, however, find both the sale results and the subsequent parcels withdrawn from the controversial auction. The details of DeChristopher’s purchased parcels are listed in both documents.

77 of the 130 parcels of land up for auction that day were eventually withdrawn. In the abovementioned teleconference, Secretary Salazar stated,

“In it’s [sic] last week in office the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s icons, some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes and did so particularly in Utah… The 77 parcels that the Bush administration offered on the doorstep of our national treasures in Utah raised some very important questions… Because of the need to review these parcels and because of their proximity to landscapes of national significance, I have directed the Bureau of Land Management not to accept the bids on the 77 parcels.”

Whether or not the bids would have been withdrawn under the Obama administration without the scrutiny from the DeChristopher case is hard to say. But one likes to think that, despite his conviction, DeChristopher prevailed.

For the full story on DeChristopher, I recommend this recent interview on Democracy Now. You can also follow the case at

Wild Horses Can’t Be Broken: BLM’s Proposed Reforms to Wild Horse and Burro Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) yesterday announced the acceleration of proposed changes to the management of wild horses and burros on public lands.

Photo by Chris Willis. Some rights reserved.

BLM estimates that more than 30,000 wild horses and burros currently roam on BLM managed rangelands across the U.S.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act declared these “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” to be “fast disappearing” and mandated their protection by the BLM.

Were overpopulation to occur in a given area, the Act instructed the Interior Secretary to “immediately remove excess animals from the range.” But so successful were the BLM’s protection efforts that five years later Congress had to amend the Act to authorize BLM’s use of helicopters to gather all the “excess” animals.  As wild burros and horses have no natural predators, some herds were found to be doubling every four years. The increasing number of wild animals was putting a strain on the rangeland’s natural resources and ecological balance.

Nowadays, as many of the excess horses as possible are put up for adoption, though adoption rates have not been able to keep pace with the number of horses gathered from the rangelands. There are currently more than 40,000 unadopted horses in short-term or long-term holding pastures. The cost of caring for these foster horses is not insignificant. In 2008, the GAO published a report that concluded that the long-term sustainability of the Wild Horse and Burro Program faces several significant challenges.

On the heels of the GAO report, the FY 2010 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act directed the BLM to prepare a comprehensive, long-term plan and policy for wild horse and burro management. Which is exactly what BLM did. In June 2010, the BLM released their Wild Horse and Burro Program Strategy Development Document for public comment, which drafted “goals, objectives and possible management actions” for sustainable management of the wild animals.

The document – which touched on sensitive issues such as the euthanization of excess horses – drew more than 9,000 passionate responses. It was these comments that prompted the BLM’s proposed “fundamental reforms” to the management plan. In a few days, the BLM plans to release an analysis of the comments and a more detailed proposed implementation strategy online. The public will again be invited to comment on the strategy up until March 30, 2011.

BLM Reclaims Wilderness and Wild Lands

Late last month, the Department of Interior announced the publication of a secretarial order directing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to “protect wilderness characteristics through land use planning and project-level decisions.”

Photo by Ken Lund. Some rights reserved.

As innocuous (and perhaps, obvious) as it seems, the policy introduced in Secretarial Order 3310 comprises the first “comprehensive national wilderness policy since 2003,” says the DOI. It was 2003 when then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton reached an out-of-court settlement with the state of Utah that barred BLM from establishing “Wilderness Study Areas” (WSAs), and effectively revoked the wilderness management guidance in the DOI’s handbook.


The new policy compels BLM to first compile an inventory of areas with wilderness* characteristics, and then “integrate this information into its land management decisions.” When BLM undertakes projects on public lands, effects on these wilderness characteristics are to be considered, and minimized or avoided where possible. Areas deemed by BLM to be worthy of protection shall be designated as “Wild Lands” (a new category established by the order that handily side-steps legal issues involving WSAs, according to Stoel Rives).

For more information you can read BLM’s Q&A document, draft inventory manual, and draft planning manual. You can also visit the knowledgemosaic Law Firm Memo search page. Enter the text wild lands to see the latest law firm analysis of Order 3310.


* “A wilderness,” as poetically defined in the Wilderness Act, 16 USC 1131(c), “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

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