Red Tape and Tribal Energy Development


Just 1 percent of New Mexico’s oil is produced on tribal lands. For natural gas, the figure 3 is percent.

That’s why a recent Reuters report offers hope for economic development on pueblos and reservations, as well as New Mexico’s struggling oil-and-gas industry.

Two advisors to the president-elect told the news service that they’re pushing to free Indian resource development “from what they call a suffocating federal bureaucracy.” U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), a co-chair of Donald Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition, is seeking to “take tribal land away from public treatment,” and predicts that doing so will enjoy “broad support around Indian country.” Mark Fox, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, voiced a common complaint: “The time it takes to go from lease to production is three times longer on trust lands than on private land.”

Congressional auditors have repeatedly documented the extent of the frustration. Last year, the Government Accountability Office found that the Bureau of Indian Affairs‘s “management shortcomings and other factors” hobble tribes’ energy development. Specifically, the agency

does not have the data it needs to verify ownership of some Indian oil and gas resources, easily identify resources available for lease, or identify where leases are in effect, as called for in Secretarial Order 3215 and internal guidance. BIA also faces staff limitations and does not have a documented process or the data needed to track its review and response times, as called for in implementation guidance for Executive Order 13604, and therefore it cannot ensure transparency in its review of energy-related documents. These shortcomings can increase costs and project development times, resulting in missed development opportunities, lost revenue, and jeopardized viability of projects.

At a Santa Fe hearing on Indian energy development held in October, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) noted that the “issue at its core deals with human dignity, self-determination and opportunity. Unfortunately, nearly every aspect of energy development on tribal lands is influenced or controlled by the federal government, a policy stemming from old notions that Indian tribes are incapable of or unwilling to manage their resources.”

With prices of both oil and natural gas on the rise, there’s no better time to empower native communities to expand energy development.