Rep. Liz Cheney is again proposing legislation to address a dilemma that comes up often today in Wyoming’s eastern oil patch: drilling into federal minerals from private land.
With long horizontal drilling, wells located on private or state surfaces can often intersect with federally managed minerals. Under the Cheney proposal, referred Friday to the House Committee on Natural Resources, those wells would only require a federal permit if less than 50 percent of the minerals are private or state owned.
Other sponsors of the bill include Rep. Paul Gosar, R-AZ, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX.
The text of the bill still had not been placed online as of Monday, but it would change the practice of today in Wyoming.
When a well intersects with federal minerals, it kick starts a response from federal agents to consider some impacts of drilling on the surface, from wildlife to cultural and historic preservation.
Cheney joined a conversation in Wyoming two years ago that was instigated by ranchers who felt frustrated by the Bureau of Land Management’s rules. Some state lawmakers stepped in to oppose limitations being placed on drilling on private land on the basis that drilling would impact the “viewshed” by which the federal rules have been interpreted to mean the visual integrity of a cultural site. In eastern Wyoming, that can mean a rock cairn built by sheepherders or the plethora of Native American sites that pepper the landscape of the Powder River Basin tied to the history of more than a dozen tribes.
BLM officials argued that the rules were nothing new, but they were new for private landowners in Converse County, where oil and gas development had grown and horizontal drilling had introduced new challenges.
Ranchers, and some lawmakers, called it a private property issue. Native American tribes saw it as a cultural preservation issue. The Bureau of Land Management promised to communicate better with the public but noted it was beholden to federal laws.
Cheney agreed with the lawmakers and industry and introduced a bill in 2017 to exempt private landowners from accepting federal oversight if a well was drilled from their property into federal minerals.
The new bill appears to be a more measured limitation of current rules than the 2017 approach. Cheney’s office failed to provide comment on the bill before deadline.
Cheney has been a frequent critic of federal “red tape” that slows or increases costs on industry development. She noted in an August interview with the Star-Tribune that regulatory changes were likely necessary to address developing technology in the oil and gas sector.
“There’s been a need for us, in my view, to fundamentally change the way the regulations work,” Cheney said. “We shouldn’t be penalized because we are able to get access to federal minerals.”
Over the last two years, Cheney has introduced a number of bills related broadly to decreasing federal restrictions on industry, from proposing the elimination of penalties on oil and gas companies for killing birds during the normal course of their work – such as birds drowned in wastewater ponds – to the proposed elimination of some Wilderness Study Area designations in Wyoming, which would open those areas up for potential development.
Cheney also produced a bill in 2017 proposing states take a greater role in permitting oil and gas wells on federal land.