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A (Potentially) Long and Winding Road: Energy Projects on Public Lands

Nada Wolff Culver, Public Land Law, Regulation, and Management

3. Energy projects - a big target

The multiple uses of public lands are not only a challenge for the agency that manages them but also for the many users of the public lands. Energy projects are circumscribed by the location of viable resources on public lands, which arguably limits their flexibility. Of course, similar arguments can be made in terms of the location of wildlife habitat, rare plants, recreation opportunities, cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands. Further, energy development tends to foreclose other uses; for example, mountain biking in a developed oil and gas field would not be a compatible use (even if both are technically part of multiple use). Consequently, where energy projects conflict with these other resources, they are set up for heightened interest and potential conflict.

Energy projects are affected and may be challenged through comments and administrative protests in the land use planning process and oil and gas leasing process, appeals to the Interior Board of Land Appeals and in federal courts.

Land use planning

FLPMA requires BLM to inventory its lands and their resource and values, “including outdoor recreation and scenic values.” 43 U.S.C. § 1711(a). FLPMA also obligates BLM to take this inventory into account when preparing land use plans, using and observing the principles of multiple use and susta