No, categorical exclusions are not symptoms of a venereal disease. Rather, CXs, as they’re known, are provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, designed to streamline permitting for relatively harmless, small-scale oil and gas activities — a single new gas well on an existing well-pad, say. But soon after the law passed, the Bureau of Land Management, which administers most oil and gas development in the West, began to use CXs a lot — giving rise to worries that large-scale drilling was moving forward in a scattershot fashion without thorough environmental review. Now, the results of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office suggest that those fears were justified. About 6,100 permits to drill — 28 percent of the total handled by the BLM — were issued with CXs from 2006 through 2008. Partly due to poor oversight and partly because of the law’s confusing language, the GAO found that the CXs were applied inconsistently, and violations were common. Although most violations were technicalities, the GAO wrote, others “may have thwarted (the National Environmental Policy Act)’s twin aims of ensuring that BLM and the public are fully informed of the environmental consequences of BLM’s actions. Click here for the full story and two-page graphic.

 

For more information:

The GAO's full report on categorical exclusions

The BLM's report on 77 controversial oil and gas leases  in Utah

The Energy Act of 2005

The Western Regional Air Partnership's oil and gas working group

Audio: The joy of CX.  Assistant editor Sarah Gilman talks about why we should care about categorical exclusions.