BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration is seeking to ease more rules for oil and gas drilling that were adopted under the Obama administration, with the latest changes projected to save energy companies more than $130 million over the next decade.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposal would streamline requirements for measuring and reporting oil and gas produced from federal lands. The administration’s critics said it marks yet another instance of Trump backtracking on rules that were meant to ensure companies drill responsibly and that the public gets fairly paid for energy extracted from public lands.
Under Trump, federal agencies looking to boost domestic energy production have systematically rolled back industry restrictions — from offshore safety rules in the Gulf of Mexico, to measures to protect imperiled species and prevent greenhouse gas pollution. Many of those moves have been challenged in court. Administration officials and industry representatives said the latest changes are meant to reduce the bureaucratic workload faced by smaller oil and gas producers.
Many smaller companies have struggled to stay in business amid a drop in demand due to the coronavirus and a recent international dispute that drove down oil prices. The 438-page proposal will be subject to public comment after being published in the federal register. A publication date has not been set, said Bureau of Land Management spokesman Chris Tollefson.
“This gives the oil and gas industry everything they wanted,” said Aaron Weiss with the Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based conservation group. “You’re leaving open the possibility that taxpayers are not going to get their fair share for oil and gas that’s being extracted.”
Drilling in the U.S. has slowed dramatically since the arrival of the pandemic and an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that’s since been resolved. In Wyoming, for example, a single drilling rig is now operating in the state, versus more than 30 a year ago.
“As prices come back up and we start ramping up production, anything that can streamline and modernize the way we do things would definitely be helpful,” said Petroleum Association of Wyoming spokesman Ryan McConnaughey.
Bureau of Land Management acting director William Perry Pendley said in a statement that the agency wanted to make sure companies can continue to drill for oil and gas on public lands.
Officials cited the changing economics of drilling on federal lands and said the government has leeway to “prioritize production over royalties” that companies pay in order to maximize oil and gas extraction.
Onshore oil and gas leases on federal and tribal lands generated almost $3 billion in royalties, rental payments and other revenues in 2018. The money is shared with states and tribes.