Except to the extent that portions of them are devoted to special uses such as wilderness, the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forests managed by the Forest Service are open to prospecting for so-called “hardrock” minerals under the General Mining Law of 1872. Upon satisfaction of the statutory conditions, the prospector obtains exclusive rights as against all others, which sometimes comes into tension with regulations adopted by the land management agencies to regulate mining activity and access in the interests of environmental preservation.
Fossil fuels and certain other minerals located on these lands, and on the seabed of the Outer Continental Shelf (“OCS”), are subject to leasing by the federal government for exploration and development for royalty payments. Oil and gas lease offerings on sensitive areas have been the cause of much litigation. OCS oil and gas leasing, particularly since the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, has been the subject of frequent challenges by the coastal states and environmental groups. NRS attorneys have had the opportunity to assist the Courts in making law under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act, as they were applied to OCS lease sales. Other significant litigation has involved the royalties paid by the lessees to the federal government.