SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee are among five senators unveiling a legislative proposal to allow state oversight of oil and gas development on federal lands, as well as tribal and state purview of hydraulic fracturing regulations.
The Opportunities for the Nation and States to Harness Onshore Resources for Energy, or ONSHORE Act, was unveiled Thursday as a way to address federal backlogs, eliminating permitting delays and duplicative regulations, sponsors said.
“Punishing regulations and permitting delays have plagued the federal oil and gas permitting process for years,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“Wyoming and other states have shown they are well-equipped to responsibly and effectively manage oil and gas development on federal land. The inaction of the government, they added, discourages oil and gas development on federal land, depriving states and local communities of jobs and needed revenue.
The ONSHORE Act, they say, empowers states with the authority to manage oil and gas permitting and regulatory responsibilities on federal land within their borders.
“The federal government has prevented the American people from enjoying the full use of our nation’s bountiful resources for far too long,” Lee said. “The ONSHORE Act will make it easier for states to work with local communities and find the best way to protect the environment and promote economic growth.”
Environmental groups decried the proposal.
"This is a blatant effort to further the anti-federal ideology of corporations and politicians who fantasize about stealing the American peoples’ land for their own selfish enrichment," said Jen Ujifusa, legislative director from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "It won’t go anywhere, and it shouldn’t.”
But Hatch said states' ability to regulate oil and gas development promotes common sense policy.
“I am happy to join my colleagues in introducing this much-needed legislation, which would responsibly increase the development of our natural resources, particularly in Utah and across the West,” Hatch said.
“For years, I have advocated for states' ability to regulate unconventional oil and gas development, which is safer and more reliable than ever thanks to innovation in the private sector. Today is an important step forward in advancing a common-sense regulatory policy that strengthens our economy while advancing the goals of American energy security.”
Utah ranks 11th in oil and gas production in the country, but about 67 percent of the land within the state's borders is owned and managed by the federal government.
There are 4,813 oil wells and 7,179 natural gas wells operating statewide, according to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, with 16,000 inspectable units as of 2015. According to a press release on the measure, the Bureau of Land Management issues applications to drill permits after an average of 257 days, while state agencies issue similar permits in about 30 days.
Specifically, the ONSHORE Act proposes to:
• Allow the secretary of the Interior to delegate to the states the exclusive authority to issue and enforce drilling plans and applications for permits to drill on federal land within their borders.11 comments on this story
• Reduce "federal overreach" on state and private land by exempting operations from federal review if the federal government holds less than a 50 percent mineral ownership interest.
• Grant states and tribes primacy over regulations, guidance and permitting for hydraulic fracturing.
The act also includes language that would allow states to claim the full 50 percent of the mineral royalties they are due under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
Other sponsors are Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.