Interior Department Moves Ahead with Plans to Lease Tracts in Five State for a Little as $2 an Acre
Trump’s Bureau of Land Management tried to lease almost 12 million acres for oil and gas exploration last year, more than six times what the Obama administration tried to lease in 2016, and the Trump administration is poised to dump 1.4 million more acres on the market early next year.
About 1.5 million acres in five western states were previously scheduled for lease sales this month but action was postponed after a federal magistrate judge found evidence that the bureau “made an intentional decision to limit the opportunity” for environmentalists and others to comment on the proposed leases. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to lease this land for as little as $2 an acre.
The land, most now scheduled to be sold in February and March, is home to the imperiled greater sage grouse, a ground-nesting bird known for its distinctive mating dance. Zinke wants to slash protections for the sage grouse.
“You’re already leasing as fast as you can and now you’re removing the protections that are already in place,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel at The Wilderness Society.
Postponed sales include:
- 141,478 acres in Colorado, including land in the North Fork Valley, named for a branch of the Gunnison River, which sits on top of the second largest shale gas reserve in the country. Organic farms, ranches and schools are nearby.
- 54,207 acres in Montana, including land in the Beaverhead watershed, explored by Lewis and Clark, and the Big Hole watershed, famed for trout fishing and home to dwindling numbers of Arctic grayling, a fish in the salmon family.
- 393,607 acres in Nevada, including land near the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge and in the Steptoe Valley.
- 173,462 acres in Utah, including land near the Winter Ridge Wilderness Study Area which is home to cougars, mule deer and black bears.
- 778,312 acres in Wyoming, including land in a migration route used by mule deer, and near the Oregon Buttes and Honeycomb Buttes.
In January, Brian Steed, the bureau’s deputy director of policy and programs, signed a memo cutting the ability of environmentalists and others to question proposed oil and gas leases. The Western Watersheds Project and the Center for Biological Diversity sued Zinke over the memo and won a preliminary injunction forcing the bureau to use old guidelines for sales scheduled for December and afterward for land where sage grouse live.
“It is well-settled that public involvement in oil and gas leasing is required,” wrote Idaho Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush.
Much of the land that Zinke has offered for lease has drawn no interest from buyers. Oil companies bid on less than 7%, or 792,823 acres of the 11.8 million acres that Zinke offered in 2017. Last year, a federal oil-lease sale promoted as the largest ever in Alaska’s Arctic Reserve sold only seven tracts, or 0.8% of the 900 offered.
Drilling for oil and gas and coal mining on public lands accounted for an estimated 23.7%, or almost a fourth, of all carbon dioxide emissions from our country from 2005-2014.
Featured image: Oil and gas operations in the West. (IWS Energy Services)