Oil and gas exploration and development are allowed in specific situations on Refuge System lands and waters. These activities most often occur where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) acquired the surface rights to the land and the mineral estate remained in private or state ownership. The owners of these "non-federal" mineral rights (they may be individuals, corporations, state or local governments, Indian tribes, or native corporations) have the legal right to explore for and extract their oil and gas resources.
Leasing and development of federally-owned oil and gas resources underlying refuges is less common. Some federal oil and gas leases predate establishment or expansion of the refuge. New leases on refuges are approved only in cases where wells on neighboring lands are draining and capturing federally-owned oil and gas without compensating the federal government.
Management of oil and gas activities to meet the Refuge System's wildlife conservation mission and protect resources presents complex challenges. The Refuge System's Oil and Gas Program develops regulations and policies to ensure activities meet all environmental laws and regulations. It also provides Refuge Managers and field staff technical guidance and training.