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Federal laws and regulations

The legislative branch of the federal government has passed many laws that govern natural resource extraction on federal lands.

Fiscal regime

The following table lists the laws that provide the backbone of the fiscal regime for the extractive industries, as well as the relevant lands and natural resources to which they apply.

Law name and code Description Relevant lands Relevant natural resources
The General Mining Law of 1872 as Amended (30 USC § 29 et seq. and 43 CFR 3860) Provides the right to patent, meaning transfer to private ownership, federal lands and natural resources for mining. Since October 1, 1994, Congress has imposed a budget moratorium on any new mineral patent applications. Federal onshore (public domain) Locatable hardrock minerals (e.g., gold, silver, and copper)
Leasing of Allotted Lands for Mining Purposes Act of 1909 (25 USC § 396 et seq. and 25 CFR 212) States that all lands allotted to Indians, except those made to members of the Five Civilized Tribes and Osage, may be leased for mining purposes for any term of years as may be deemed advisable by the Secretary of the Interior. Indian (allotted) Not specified
Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 as Amended (30 USC 181 et seq.) Creates a system of leasing mineral resources on federal lands for extraction and grants BLM authority to administer mineral leasing. Federal onshore (public domain) Coal, oil, gas, oil or gas shale, sodium, potassium, phosphate, sulfur, and gilsonite
Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 (25 USC § 396a et seq.) Opens unallotted lands within any Indian reservation for leasing for mining purposes by authority of the tribal council and approval of the Secretary of the Interior. Indian (tribal) Not specified
Mineral Leasing Act for Acquired Lands of 1947 (30 USC § 351 et seq. and 43 CFR 3420) Extends the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and authority of the Secretary of the Interior to govern mineral leasing on federal acquired lands. Federal onshore (acquired) Coal, oil, gas, oil or gas shale, sodium, potassium, phosphate, sulfur, and gilsonite
Mineral Materials Act of 1947 (30 USC § 601 et seq.) Also known as the Common Varieties Act, regulates the sale and permitting of the most common hardrock minerals in place of the General Mining Law of 1872. Federal onshore Common hardrock minerals (e.g., sand, gravel, stone, pumice, cinders)
Submerged Lands Act of 1953 (43 USC § 1301 et seq.) Recognizes states’ rights to the submerged navigable lands within their boundaries, as well as the marine waters within their boundaries, often defined as three geographical miles from the coastline. State offshore All natural resources
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 as Amended (43 USC § 1331 et seq.) Gives the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for administering mineral and energy resources exploration, development, and production on the Outer Continental Shelf, subject to environmental safeguards. Mandates receipt of fair market value for mineral leasing. Outer Continental Shelf Oil, gas, and other minerals
Geothermal Steam Act of 1970 (30 USC § 1001 et seq.) Allows the leasing of federal lands under BLM’s administration for geothermal resource development, excluding prohibited lands. Federal onshore Geothermal
Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970 (30 USC § 21a et seq.) Amends the Mining Act of 1920. Establishes the national interest to develop a domestic private enterprise mining industry, while addressing adverse environmental impacts. Federal onshore All natural resources
Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act (FCLAA) of 1976 (90 STAT 1083) Amends Section 2 of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. Requires all public lands available for coal leasing to be leased competitively, the government to only accept lease bids equal to or greater than fair market value, the consolidation of leasing into logical mining units, lease holders to continually operate, and other measures. Federal onshore Coal
Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 (30 USC § 1201 et seq.) Creates the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSMRE) to establish a nationwide program to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations, under which OSMRE is charged with balancing the nation’s need for continued domestic coal production with protection of the environment; requires coal mine owners to post bonds as insurance for reclaiming the land after current mining operations, and requires them to pay into the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, a fund intended to address mines abandoned prior to 1977. Federal onshore Coal
Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act (FOGRMA) of 1982 (30 USC § 1701 et seq.) Grants the Secretary of the Interior authority for managing and collecting oil and gas royalties from leases on federal and Indian lands. Federal onshore, Indian, and Outer Continental Shelf Oil and gas
Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982 (25 USC §§ 2101–2108 et seq.) Provides Indian tribes with flexibility in the development and sale of mineral resources, including opportunities to enter into joint venture agreements with mineral developers. Indian (tribal) Oil and gas, coal, geothermal, and other mineral resources
Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act (FOOGLRA) of 1987 (30 USC § 181 et seq.) Amendment to the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. Gives the US Forest Service the authority to proactively offer leases for oil and gas on National Forest System lands provided environmental and other land-use regulations are met. BLM largely administers leasing on these lands. Federal onshore Oil and gas
Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Simplification and Fairness Act (RSFA) of 1996 (30 USC § 1701 et seq.) Improves royalty management from federal and Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leases. Federal onshore and Outer Continental Shelf Oil and gas
Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 2005 (42 USC § 13201 et seq.) Addresses energy production in the United States, including the production, transportation, and transmission of energy on the Outer Continental Shelf from sources other than oil and gas (e.g., wind energy); incentives for oil and gas development; and provisions to access oil and gas resources on federal lands. Federal onshore and Outer Continental Shelf Oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, hydropower, and geothermal
Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) of 2006 (120 Stat. 2922) Opens 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, shares leasing revenue with gulf producing states and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and bans oil and gas leasing within 125 miles off the Florida coastline in the Eastern Planning Area and a portion of the Central Planning Area until 2022. Outer Continental Shelf Oil and gas

Fees and fines for extractive industries companies

There are other laws governing natural resources and extractive companies’ operations. Some of these laws require companies to pay fees. Violating some of these laws can also result in companies paying fines.

Law name and code Description Relevant lands Relevant natural resources
Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 as Amended (43 USC § 1701 et seq.) Requires BLM to administer federal lands using a land use planning framework that includes no unnecessary or undue degradation; multiple-use, sustained yield considerations for present and future generations; and public planning. Requires receipt of fair market value for use of federal lands and resources. Federal onshore and Indian All natural resources
Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970 (42 USC § 7401 et seq.) Outlines steps that federal agencies, state and local governments, and industry must take to decrease air pollution. Oil and gas wells are exempt from legal aggregation, whereby the emissions from small sites that are connected, in close proximity or under shared ownership, are added together and regulated as “stationary sources” if they emit or could emit 100 tons per year of a pollutant. All lands All natural resources, except when oil and gas are exempted
Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1977 (33 USC § 1251 et seq.) Establishes a regulatory framework to protect water quality and monitor discharges of pollutants into waters in the United States. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not require National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for uncontaminated storm water discharges from oil and gas exploration, production, processing or treatment operations; transmission; or drill site preparation. All lands All natural resources, except when oil and gas are exempted
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 (42 USC §§ 300f–300j et seq.) Protects public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply and its sources. As of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, hydraulic fracturing fluids are exempt from underground injection control permits unless diesel fuel is used in the extraction process. All lands All natural resources, except when oil and gas are exempted
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980 (42 USC §§ 9601–9675 et seq.) Provides a federal ‘superfund’ to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites, as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment, and gives EPA the power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and assure their cooperation in the cleanup. All lands All natural resources, except when oil and gas are exempted
Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (16 USC § 1531 et seq.) Protects and recovers imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. All lands All natural resources
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 as Amended (16 USC § 1361 et seq.) Prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals in US waters and by US citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the United States. All lands All natural resources, except when oil and gas are exempted

Other laws

There are many other laws with which extractive industries companies must comply. DOI, EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other federal agencies’ websites contain more comprehensive lists of laws they enforce:

Regulations

Federal agencies, such as DOI and relevant bureaus, implement these laws by developing and enforcing regulations and rules. These key regulations relate to natural resource extraction, particularly on federal and Indian lands:

  • Title 25 in the Code of Federal Regulations relates to sovereign Indian nations. Subchapter I deals with energy and minerals (Parts 200–227).
  • Title 30 governs mineral resources. Chapter II deals with the BSEE; Chapter V deals with BOEM; Chapter VII deals with OSMRE; Chapter XII deals with ONRR.
  • Title 43 in the Code of Federal Regulations governs public lands. Subchapter C focuses on minerals management (Parts 3000–3870).

Implementing laws includes complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 USC § 4321 et seq.). NEPA is intended to ensure that decision makers and the public have information about the potential impacts to the environment of proposed federal actions and alternatives to those actions. When taking any major action, such as leasing natural resources on federal lands for extraction, federal agencies must prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and/or EISs to document environmental impacts of agency actions and alternatives to those actions. The public has legally mandated opportunities to comment on these impact statements.