Project Point of Contact
Janine Van Norman
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Oil and Gas Team is a consortium of federal agencies brought together to address the increased need by Service personnel for guidance and oversight in managing oil and gas activities on National Wildlife Refuge System lands. The team has designed and is currently conducting a comprehensive mobile national training program to educate refuge managers, Solicitors, and regional personnel in the management and oversight of oil and gas operations on NWRS lands. The team's primary goal is to provide Service personnel with the technical, administrative, and legal information needed to effectively manage oil and gas activities throughout the NWRS lands, for the benefit of trust resources. The team has also drafted an oil and gas handbook for field personnel (currently under review) and is currently in the process of designing a GIS module within the Service's Refuge Lands GIS database to collect and store oil and gas information. The efforts of the Oil and Gas team has resulted in increased oversight and management of oil and gas activities on refuge lands; improved compliance by oil and gas operators, has initiated localized clean-up of impacted refuges and has improved habitat on NWRS lands.
Need & Implementation
The team formed in response to a GAO report, "Federal Lands: The Management and Oversight of Oil and Gas on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands " The report highlighted several areas the where the Service required improvement in its management of oil and gas operations, one of which included providing training to refuge staff as well as creating nationwide consistency in how the Service manages oil and gas activities. Refuge lands have varying degrees of damage due to oil and gas activities. The reason for this in part is because management of these activities has been inconsistent at best. The team was created to address these challenges, and to give refuge managers the tools they need to more effectively manage oil and gas resources.
As per the GAO, as of 2003 over one quarter (155 out of 548) of all refuges had current or past oil and gas activity, ranging from exploration, drilling and production, to pipelines transiting refuge lands, some dating back to the 1920's.
As of 2003, Service lands had upwards of 4,400 oil and gas wells; 2,600 inactive wells and 1,806 active wells. These activities have had a significant impact on wildlife species, habitat, refuge resources and the public's enjoyment of federal lands. Since that time, Anecdotal evidence indicates a marked increase in oil and gas activities on refuge lands, which will only continue to strain Service resources.
The Service's National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) lacked the technical and administrative expertise needed to educate students on oil and gas infrastructure; geology; drilling and exploration methods; health and safety issues; and legal authorities and administrative matters. The Service also lacked the funding to hire instructors/facilities with expertise in these areas. The challenge was to find a training facility on federal lands with oil and gas activities to provide students with tangible examples of oil and gas activity. This requirement is especially imperative to reinforce skills learned in the classroom.
The Service met these challenges by utilizing the technical expertise of the NPS, Geologic Resources Division, the FWS Ecological Services, DOI Office of the Solicitor and Service refuge personnel to provide students with the core requirements needed to effectively manage oil and gas activities. The Service also incorporated the expertise and training materials provided by the Bureau of Land Management, Fluid Minerals Group into the "Soft Footprints" module of the curriculum and the "Best Management Practices" section of the handbook. This approach allows the Service to see how other federal agencies are managing oil and gas, which in turn create consistency among agencies managing oil and gas activities across the Department of the Interior.
Although the Service lacked funding and facilities that provide specialized training in oil and gas, the Service utilized refuges with oil and gas activities to provide students with a real-world examples to practice skills learned in the classroom. This allowed students to practice their assessment of oil and gas sites, including environmental damage, safety considerations, monitoring, permit compliance, environmental compliance, restoration, and remediation. In addition, the Service enlists speakers from the state oil and gas regulatory agencies as well as representatives from the oil and gas industry to provide students with a 3600 view of oil and gas issues and challenges.
Partnering and Cooperative Conservation
The oil and gas team project has been exemplary in applying the E.O. 13352 "Facilitation of Cooperative Conservation." They have succeeded in bringing together parties with differing resources, perspectives and mandates to share cooperatively in the oil and gas management curriculum and has created a sustaining relationship between the FWS, NPS, BLM and the DOI Office of the Solicitor. These efforts, combined with the continued involvement of the state regulatory agencies as well as representatives from the oil and gas industry, further the Service's involvement in the stewardship of public lands. In addition, the team has trained over 100 students from six of seven regions to take a cooperative approach to working with mineral owners and helped students determine reasonable approaches to managing oil and gas on refuge lands. They advise students of the NEP A federal decision-making process and when it should be applied, and most importantly, provide advice and guidance to ensure the public is safeguarded against any activity which may affect public health and safety. The instructors continue their support of students by offering help and guidance after the end of the course.
Scope of Project Impact
The oil and gas team continues to contribute significantly to the environmental stewardship of federal lands by helping managers understand the motivation, mechanics, processes, effects and legal authorities governing oil and gas activity on NWRS lands. This process is crucial for ensuring reasonable use of the surface estate by subsurface mineral owners, and promotes restoration of refuges back to healthy, functioning ecosystems. Successful communication with oil and gas operators and their contractors as well as other federal, state and municipal authorities ensure that all entities are well versed in the oil and gas process and that the legal exercise of mineral rights by the subsurface mineral owners is not adversely affected.
Other DOI bureaus or other federal entities could replicate the strategies and techniques proven successful by the oil and gas team. The curriculum, though currently geared to National Wildlife Refuge System lands could conform to any of the Bureaus within DOI. Courses such as Negotiations Techniques", "Soft Footprints" or "The Oil and Gas Process" are all course curricula built to suit any bureau.
The oil and gas training project continues to grow as they continue to train more and more employees. Since 2005, staffing from refuges, Solicitor's and regional offices have taken the course and we are seeing a marked improvement in management of oil and gas activities. In addition, an increase in dialogue has been seen among Service personnel managing these activities. This information sharing continues to improve consistency in how the Service manages oil and gas nationwide. The training is complete and is entering its third year.
The oil and gas team aids refuge personnel in the administration of their duties as trustees of the National Wildlife Refuge System, so that all refuges will continue to be a national legacy for all future generations.