Legal Updates

So what is a Master Leasing Plan anyway?

So, what is a Master Leasing Plan anyway?
As part of a suite of federal oil and gas leasing reforms introduced by Secretary Salazar in 2010, the BLM introduced the concept of master leasing plans (“MLPs”). The MLP is a federal land use planning tool that allows the BLM to amend a governing resource management plan (“RMP”) to include new terms and conditions imposed by the MLP. It’s our view that the “political/policy” purpose behind MLPs, as evidenced by their enthusiastic embrace by environmental groups, is to allow the BLM to undo and then re-write Bush-era land use plans that were more supportive of oil and gas than those groups desired.

Under the MLP framework, certain areas of public lands located in “sensitive landscapes,” or areas containing a “high level of potential resource concerns” are designated as MLP areas. The MLP area is then analyzed on a landscape level, where competing resource values are evaluated and, ideally, harmonized. This will typically involve the development of a comprehensive plan for long term oil and gas development in the area, rather than the straightforward designation of “open,” “closed,” or “open with stipulations” as is generally found in RMPs.
The MLP may include phased leasing (offering only a certain number of lease parcels for sale in a given year), phased development (permitting the issuance of a limited number of APDs in a given year), requirements regarding emission capture and closed-loop drilling and permanently closing certain areas to oil and gas development and leasing.
Because amendments to RMPs must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the MLP analysis and review will generally take the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) or an Environmental Analysis (“EA”), which will then be used to modify the relevant RMP.

According to BLM, the purpose of an MLP is to allow for “more in depth review” of areas that are or may be opened to oil and gas leasing than would typically be found in the governing RMP. MLPs have been widely heralded by environmental groups as adding a necessary layer of environmental analysis focused solely on issues related to oil and gas development. In contrast, industry has taken a cautious, wait and see approach. However, it is worth noting that because the development of MLPs has been a very slow-moving process, the BLM has deferred from leasing numerous parcels located in MLP areas, even when those parcels are currently designated by the governing RMP as “open” to oil and gas leasing. It is a process worth watching.
For more information about MLPs, federal land use planning and oil and gas leasing, please contact Nora Pincus.