The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1969, also exempts certain oil and gas drilling activities, obviating the need to conduct environmental impact statements (EIS) (BLM 2008).
The exemption, enacted by Congress in 2005, effectively shifts the burden of proof to the public to prove that such activities would be unsafe. In 2006 and 2007, the BLM granted this exemption to about 25 percent of all wells approved on public land in the West (BLM Budget 2009).
The activities thus exempted include:
“(1) Individual surface disturbances of less than 5 acres so long as the total surface disturbance on the lease is not greater than 150 acres and site-specific analysis in a document prepared pursuant to NEPA has been previously completed.
(2) Drilling an oil or gas well at a location or well pad site at which drilling has occurred previously within 5 years prior to the date of spudding the well.
(3) Drilling an oil or gas well within a developed field for which an approved land use plan or any environmental document prepared pursuant to NEPA analyzed such drilling as a reasonably foreseeable activity, so long as such plan or document was approved within 5 years prior to the date of spudding the well.
(4) Placement of a pipeline in an approved right-of-way corridor, so long as the corridor was approved within 5 years prior to the date of placement of the pipeline.
(5) Maintenance of a minor activity, other than any construction or major renovation or a building or facility” (NEPA 2009).
Environmental Working Group