GAO recommends improved BLM data management
The Government Accountability Office has recommended that the Bureau of Land Management improve its management and tracking of data relating to the environmental impacts of permitted oil and gas operations on federal lands. In a newly published report GAO says that, although BLM has a process for approving exceptions to environmental mitigation measures when issuing permits, procedures for these approvals are inconsistent across the agency’s field offices and the agency has no policy for consistently tracking exception requests. As a consequence, BLM may be unable to provide reasonable assurance that it is meeting its environmental responsibilities, GAO says.
Moreover, whereas BLM requires certain key practices in conjunction with permitted activities, the agency does not consistently document the results of its inspections, conducted to ensure that these practices are carried out. The key practices relate to issues such as standards for road construction, the use of secondary containment for protection against oil spills, and the reclamation of impacted land. In the absence of detailed information about inspection results or the effective use of data from inspections, BLM cannot fully assess the effectiveness of its best management practices policy, GAO says.
GAO has made a series of recommendations for BLM, including the development of bureau-wide written procedures for making exception decisions during permitting; the making of exception decisions public; and the clarification of guidance for documenting the results of environmental inspections. Field offices also need guidance on the collection and use of field inspection data, GAO says.
BLM has in general concurred with the GAO recommendations. However, the agency has expressed concern over the possibility of public involvement in the permit exception decision making process. Exception requests are available to the public but public involvement in the exception process would require a formal rule change, BLM says. The public can currently review and comment on documents relating to exception requests, including land planning and National Environmental Policy Act documents, the agency says.
- ALAN BAILEY