National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Government Delays Preventing Jobs and Economic Growth
Before the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approves any exploration or production activity on leased federal acreage, it must conduct environmental analysis under NEPA. Despite the fact that companies routinely pay for contractors to complete the technical analysis for BLM, the Department of the Interior (DOI) continues to delay NEPA documents. They often take years to complete, with more than eight years for large projects not uncommon. These unnecessary delays are costing the West significant economic activity and large numbers of jobs.
A 2012 study by SWCA Environmental Consultants found that the total annual impact of just twenty projects proposed in Wyoming and Utah could be 120,905 jobs with $8 billion in wages, $27.5 billion in economic activity, and $139 million in government revenue. The total projected economic impact of these projects over their lifespan of ten to fifteen years is $383.5 billion. Every year, we look at which of these major projects have been approved by BLM and which have languished for more than three years to determine how much of that economic impact continues to be delayed by the federal government. As of June 1, 2016, only two of the twenty projects have been approved, while the other eighteen projects have all been awaiting approval for more than three years. These delays are preventing the development of 2,391 wells and the creation of 101,121 jobs, $6.9 billion in wages, and $24.9 billion in economic impact every year.
White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidelines indicate that Environmental Assessments (EAs) for small- to medium-sized projects should take 18 months or less, and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for large projects should take two to three years. However, these guidelines are routinely ignored. Most large project NEPA analyses in the West have been delayed between three and eight years, and even small project EAs can take four years. BLM has only approved three large oil and natural gas projects in the West since the start of the Obama Administration. And they wonder why there’s so much non-producing federal acreage!
When the political will exists at DOI, BLM has the ability to complete large-scale EISs in a timely manner. Solar EISs have been completed in as little as nine months. Since solar has a larger footprint on the land per unit of energy generated than oil and natural gas development, the environmental issues addressed are significant. Given the same political will, DOI could similarly complete oil and natural gas EISs in a timely manner.
Of course, the lengthy regulatory journey continues even after the NEPA process is complete. Once the NEPA analysis has been approved, a company is then able to go onto the permitting process.
Western Energy Alliance supports efforts to reform the NEPA process, including the elimination of redundant environmental analysis and the imposition of common sense timeframes in which NEPA analyses must be completed. Sensible NEPA reform should allow for ample time to conduct comprehensive reviews and incorporate public input while removing the uncertainty associated with indefinite and arbitrary delays. Common sense legislation, like the Responsibility and Professional Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act, would impose reasonable deadlines for NEPA documents and reduce redundant analysis.