H.R. 3881, Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2015

H.R. 3881

Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2015

Date
September 6, 2016 (114th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 3881, the Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2015, under suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on November 3, 2015, by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, on June 15, 2016 by unanimous consent.

Bill Summary

H.R. 3881 repeals requirements of the Mineral Leasing Act and the Energy Policy Act of 1992 regarding the development of oil and gas deposits on certain lands within the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.

Background

The Allegheny National Forest (ANF) encompasses 517,000 acres located in Northwestern Pennsylvania. In 1923 the federal government purchased land to establish the ANF, but most of the acquisition was of surface rights – leaving most of the subsurface mineral rights in private ownership.[1] About 93%, or 478,283 acres, of the ANF subsurface mineral estate is privately-owned, leaving just 35,000 acres owned by the federal government.[2]

Private mineral owners have a property right to develop their interests, including reasonable use of the surface in order to develop the subsurface minerals. However, property owners are still subject to regulations. Prior to 2008, private mineral owners worked cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service to develop oil and natural gas, with mineral rights holders providing the Forest Service with a 60-day notification of their drilling plans and the Forest Service issuing a “Notice to Proceed” (NTP).[3]

In 2007, the Forest Service concluded that the issuance of an NTP was considered a “major federal action” subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Consequently, environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service arguing no NTP’s should be issued without an appropriate NEPA analysis.  The Forest Service agreed to place a moratorium on NTPs until a forest-wide environmental analysis was conducted.  In 2009, the Forest Service issued a statement that all pending and future oil and gas proposals would require full NEPA analysis.  Industry interests filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service and environmental groups.[4]

In December 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania overturned the Forest Service ban on oil and gas development in the ANF. Through 2013, federal courts repeatedly ruled the Forest Service lacked the regulatory approval authority over the exercise of private mineral estates. H.R. 3881 repeals the rulemaking authority in the existing statute, preventing any future possibility for the Forest Service to liberally interpret statutory authority to infringe upon private property rights. [5]

According to the bill’s sponsor, “Despite generations of a balanced and stringent environmental review process, extreme environmental groups had several unsuccessful attempts at shutting down production in the Allegheny through frivolous litigation. Thankfully, federal courts saw through those efforts, yet our region needs further certainty moving forward. The Cooperative Management of Mineral Rights Act of 2015 will ensure responsible production can occur without impediment. This legislation will provide clarity to the regulatory process and continue to respect the long-standing recognition of the fundamental importance of protecting private property rights.”[6]

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[1] This is known as “split-estate”, when the surface rights and subsurface rights are owned by different parties.
[2] See Committee on Natural Resources memo, “H.R. 3881 (Rep. Glenn Thompson), To amend the Mineral Leasing Act to repeal provisions relating only to the Allegheny National Forest.” June 14 and 15, 2016 at 1.
[3] Id. at 2.
[4] Id. at 3.
[5] Id.
[6] See. Rep. Thompson’s Press Release, “Thompson Introduces Legislation Protecting Private Mineral Rights in Allegheny National Forest” November 3, 2015.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that enacting H.R. 3881 would affect direct spending by changing the timing of timber receipts, however any effects would be negligible and would not affect revenues. CBO further estimates that enacting H.R. 3881 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027.

Additional Information

For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.