Game Changer: The Federal Land Freedom Act

Thanks to developments in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, America is experiencing a modern energy renaissance. Oil production is at its highest levels in nearly twenty years, and natural gas continues to surge at a near-record pace. America currently produces more petroleum and natural gas than any other nation.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of this innovation is taking place on non-federal lands. Since 2010, oil and natural gas production on non-federal lands has increased 89 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, over the same period of time, production on federal lands decreased 10 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Further, overall fossil fuel production on federal lands has declined 16 percent since 2008. This is largely the result of a federal permitting process that takes much longer than on private lands: average wait time for the Bureau of Land Management to approve a drilling permit was 292 days from FY 2009-2013, compared to just a few months – even days – at the non-federal level.

Clearly, the federal government is holding America back from fully unleashing its energy potential. Fortunately, two pieces of legislation seek to undo this trend: Rep. Diane Black introduced H.R. 866 and Sen. Jim Inhofe introduced S. 490, both titled the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015.

These identical bills have several strong provisions that would promote American energy growth, security, and independence. First, they allow states with pre-existing natural gas and oil permitting and leasing programs to assume federal duties for the processing of applications and the regulation of drilling activities. This would not only expedite the approval process, but would return regulatory responsibilities to the states, as they should be. States have a better knowledge of the lands within their borders and should be responsible for administering the energy production process within their borders.

Second, the bills protect states from federal overreach, exempting states from specific federal regulations that would otherwise be used to undermine or usurp state control over the natural gas and oil exploration and development process.

Finally, the legislation ensures the fair distribution of royalties and fees. Royalties that are collected from the leases and permits and are deposited in the same federal account as they would have been under a federally-administered lease or permit. However, states are entitled to collect lease and permit fees, allowing fair compensation to both state and local and federal entities. Since the legislation would increase the number of approved leases, these changes would likely result in significant increases in royalty payments to the federal government.

Rep. Black and Sen. Inhofe should be commended for authoring these important pieces of legislation. All Members of Congress should consider supporting the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015.

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