National Wildlife Refuge System

Regulation and Policy

Service regulations for management of oil and gas activities are contained at 50 CFR 29.31 and 29.32. These regulations have not been revised for more than 50 years. Service policy is outlined in the Service Manual Part 612.
 
Nonfederal Oil and Gas Rights - Nonfederal oil and gas rights are privately owned.  Individuals, corporations, nonprofit organizations, state or local governments, Indian tribes, or native corporations may own these "nonfederal" rights. The owners have the legal right to explore for and extract oil and gas from their mineral estate.

Service regulations state we shall protect refuge resources to the maximum extent possible without infringing upon the rights of sub-surface mineral owners. The private mineral owner has a responsibility to show reasonable regard for the surface estate as required by State law.

Private mineral owners "shall, to the greatest extent practicable, conduct all exploration, development, and production operations in such a manner as to prevent damage, erosion, pollution, or contamination to the lands, waters, facilities and vegetation of the area. So far as is practicable, such operations must also be conducted without interference with the operation of the refuge or disturbance to the wildlife thereon. Physical occupancy of the area must be kept to the minimum space compatible with the conduct of efficient mineral operations. Persons conducting mineral operations on refuge areas must comply with all applicable Federal and State laws and regulations for the protection of wildlife and the administration of the area. Oil field brine, slag, and all other waste and contaminating substances must be kept in the smallest practicable area, must be confined so as to prevent escape as a result of rains and high water or otherwise, and must be removed from the area as quickly as practicable in such a manner as to prevent contamination, pollution, damage, or injury to the lands, waters, facilities, or vegetation of the refuge or to wildlife. Structures and equipment must be removed from the area when the need for them has ended. Upon the cessation of operations the area shall be restored as nearly as possible to its condition prior to the commencement of operations." (50 CFR 29.32)

Federal Oil and Gas - Federally owned oil and gas resources under Refuge System lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in consultation with the Service. Under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Reform Act of 1987, BLM has regulatory authority to offer and administer all oil and gas leases on onshore federal lands.  However, BLM regulations dictate that 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. Regulations governing the BLM’s oil and gas leasing program are in 43 CFR 3000 and 3100.

 

Last updated: February 21, 2014