On August 11th, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claiming that, by “cancelling” certain recent federal lease sales, BLM has not done its job of holding quarterly lease sales in each state.
This latest chapter in WEA’s ongoing crusade against the BLM and against responsible, balanced management of our shared public lands represents a new low, distorts the reality of oil and gas leasing on American public lands and, if successful, would only lead to more unwarranted locked gates and “no-access” signs leading to our public lands.
First of all, it’s misleading to suggest that BLM has cancelled lease sales outright. The truth is that many recent sales were deferred because industry failed to actually nominate any lands for leasing, and that other sales were rescheduled for safety reasons related to a dramatic rise in public attendance at BLM lease sales.
- The oil and gas industry drives the leasing process, and their interest has plummeted alongside oil and gas prices. BLM only leases lands that have been nominated by extractive companies through so-called “expressions of interest” (EOIs). Not surprisingly, EOIs have declined right alongside oil and gas prices. In 2014, industry nominated 35 million acres for lease, but, just 1 year later, nominations fell to 10 million acres. As a result, BLM deferred several sales in Montana, New Mexico and Nevada because industry failed to nominate any lands for leasing.
- Other sales have been postponed for legitimate safety concerns while the BLM modernizes its leasing processes. Federal lease sales, which are currently held at in-person auctions, have historically been small events with just a handful of bidders in attendance. However, because of increased attention to BLM and oil and gas lease sales, the agency has taken steps to ensure that bidders, as well as the public, can safely attend and participate in those sales. Toward this end, BLM has temporarily postponed a handful of sales, most of which have already been rescheduled.
What’s more is that industry already has a massive surplus of unused leases on federal lands.
- Less than 40% of federal acres under lease are being utilized. Of the 32.2 million federal acres currently under lease, only 12.7 million acres, about 40%, are actually producing oil or gas. The Congressional Budget Office also recently reported that only about 1 in 10 federal leases are ever drilled—the rest expire without any development. So, before industry asks for more leases, it should first look to the 20 million un-developed acres it already has.
- It’s also worth pointing out that industry is also sitting on over 7,500 approved drilling permits. So, given the large surplus of outstanding leases and permits, it’s difficult to understand how industry is harmed in any way by BLM’s decision to postpone a handful of lease sales.
WEA’s latest lawsuit is a thinly veiled attempt to blame BLM and the public for the consequences of low oil and gas prices. And now, at a time when oil prices are predicted to remain low, industry wants to lock up even more of our treasured public lands