A “master leasing plan” (MLP) is a new approach from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to managing oil and gas activity on sensitive landscapes within its jurisdiction.
Before leasing and development are proposed, MLP’s are intended to identify and resolve conflicts with important resource values such as –
- Municipal watersheds and wildlife habitat,
- Air and water quality, and
- Public health and safety.
MLPs accomplish this through –
- Robust engagement with the public and other stakeholders,
- Evaluating potential impacts at a landscape-level, and
- Developing comprehensive measures to resolve potential conflicts.
MLP conflict resolution can take a variety of forms, including
- Closing areas to leasing and using “no-surface occupancy” and other stipulations,
- Phased leasing/development,
- Mandatory caps on surface disturbance, and
- Closed-loop drilling.
Why MLPs are Needed: Resource Management Plans are Lacking
Without MLPs, BLM guides oil and gas development under Resource Management Plans (RMPs). RMPS can be problematic because
- RMPs are only updated every 20-30 years
- RMPs apply to such a large area that they don’t take into account many of the site-specific details that might make one area more prone to leasing conflicts than another.
- Where land use conflicts occur, the RMP-level approach creates a confusing, time-intensive system for public input on leasing decisions
- Can be written separately or concurrently with an RMP, so any area with a need for an MLP can begin the process to create one.
- Analyzes a much smaller area than an entire BLM field office and its corresponding RMP – usually where there are clear conflicts between drilling and interests such as ranching, farming, recreation, and those who live within the MLP planning area.
- Is created under the idea that “there is no presumed preference for oil and gas development over other uses.”
- Can remove certain areas from future leasing.
- Can guide leasing and development through the use of “best management practices” and “resource protection measures,” including caps on the amount of surface disturbance allowed within the MLP planning area.
- Can reduce the number of leases held for speculation by – upon their expiration — removing parcels within an MLP that were leased prior to the MLPS’s creation. If undeveloped, the leases will sunset 10 years after their original purchase date and be unavailable for leasing again.
- Can create phased development approaches. This allows for development to occur slowly and in a controlled manner. If problems occur, they can be addressed before more problems are created. More drilling cannot occur until older drill sites and associated infrastructure are properly reclaimed.
- Forces BLM to take a closer look before making leasing decisions. For example, in southwest Colorado, lands were proposed for leasing that actually overlapped a small ski resort. While the leasing was legitimate under the RMP, an MLP would have likely not allowed that to be considered, because a more careful look at the maps would have shown obvious recreational and safety concerns with having drilling rigs within a ski area.
- Can reduce redundant infrastructure by requiring BLM to work with operators in a more unified way. For example, BLM using an MLP-level analysis can reduce redundant pipelines, access roads and other infrastructure by ensuring BLM is looking at the area holistically, rather than simply programmatically.