New Oil & Gas Rule Will Benefit Wildlife on Public Lands

Wildlife – from majestic elk to small burrowing owls – depend on our public lands and waters for their survival. Elk use large intact landscapes and migration pathways to access important summer and winter ranges to find food. Burrowing owls live underground in burrows – often left behind by prairie dogs – and depend on insects and rodents for survival. These species, and hundreds more, are found on the 245 million acres of land stewarded by the Department of the Interior. We need oil and gas rule reforms to help protect the wildlife that live on these lands and the people that live near them.

Public Lands Under Pressure

Unfortunately, these lands have come under increasing pressure in recent years from drought, large wildfires, invasive species, and development. Oil and gas activity, for example, has taken a toll on these lands because, for far too long, the federal government did not require oil and gas companies to cover the full cost of  cleaning the messes they left behind after drilling and development.

Consequently, thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells are leaking toxins into our lands, waters, and the air. These wells threaten both wildlife health and human health and can impact outdoor recreation and the rural economies that depend on these lands. 

An owl (squat and brown with white and tan spots) perches on a rock.
Burrowing owl. Credit: USFWS

Rule Reforms

For many years, the National Wildlife Federation and our members advocated for reforms to the outdated oil and gas leasing system. Last year, the Interior Department issued a draft plan and thousands of our members and supporters spoke up in support of the proposals. Now, the Department is about to implement those common sense reforms that prioritize people and wildlife instead of oil and gas companies. 

The reforms include:

  • Requiring oil and gas companies to clean up after themselves when they are finished drilling so that taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill. 
  • Keeping oil and gas wells away from areas that are important to wildlife or that contain valuable cultural and recreational resources. 
  • Avoiding the issuance of leases on lands that have little potential for development. 
  • Increasing fees for the privilege of developing oil and gas on public lands.
  • Ending the practice of noncompetitive leasing, which previously gave away development rights on public lands for as little as $1.50 an acre. 
  • Expanding opportunities for public participation by guaranteeing at least 30-day comment periods at multiple stages of the leasing process.

The millions of acres that make up our nation’s public lands provide so much for us – whether it’s habitat for wildlife, a place to seek solace, opportunities for outdoor recreation, or economic stimulus for rural communities. The new oil and gas reform rule will help safeguard these lands so they can continue to thrive for generations to come.