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Winning the West

When it comes to winning elections in the West, public lands matter.

Polls from Colorado and Nevada show that Western voters favor a balanced approach to tackling the region’s public lands, energy, and recreation issues.

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Oil industry’s frivolous lawsuit reveals companies eager to lock up even more public land

The Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a litigious oil lobby group, has filed another lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Secretary of the Interior complaining there aren’t enough oil and gas leases being sold on America’s public lands.

The WEA complaint—reported as “Hail Mary” lawsuit—drills to the core of the oil industry’s image problem: they’re greedy and will go to great lengths to get what they want. Consider these three facts:

  1. Since the beginning of 2014, the U.S. government has leased nearly 7 million acres of American-owned oil and gas—an area larger than Connecticut—for drilling.
  2. Oil and gas companies are currently stockpiling over 19 million acres of America’s public lands, which aren’t producing oil or gas.
  3. Only about half the total number of acres available for lease were actually purchased by oil and gas companies in 2015 and 2016.

And yet the industry is complaining in court that the BLM broke the law by failing to hold quarterly lease sales in Western states. The lawsuit challenges BLM’s 2010 leasing reforms, which establishes a rotating schedule of lease sales to improve the efficiency of leasing and ensure adequate reviews of areas to be leased. As a result, BLM state offices prioritize leases in different districts on a rotating basis throughout the year. The lawsuit is based on a combination of mistruths and a misunderstanding of the law regulating leasing of American public lands, the Mineral Leasing Act. The Act reads: “Lease sales shall be held for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly….”

The Western Energy Alliance wants us to believe that always and no matter what, the BLM is obligated to hold a lease sale four times per year in every state. But they’re ignoring the key words “eligible lands,” which the BLM has broad discretion over. The Center for Western Priorities’ analysis of the lawsuit reveals a number of lease sales were canceled or postponed by the BLM because of an ongoing vetting process, safety precautions, or simply a lack of interest by the oil and gas industry. These eligible lands are then made available for lease during a later sale.

While WEA would like the public to believe oil companies have a hard time getting enough land to drill, the reality is that the oil and gas industry isn’t even taking full advantage of existing lease sales. Though the oil and gas industry drives the process by selecting which public lands they’d like to see leased, companies end up leasing only a small portion of the lands they express interest in. In 2015 and the first two quarters of 2016, just over half of acres offered for lease by the BLM in 9 western states were actually purchased.

BLM Table 1 (1)

Additionally, only a fraction of purchased leases are used for oil and gas production. About 25 million acres were leased for oil and gas production in 2015. Only about 12 million of those acres are in production—47% of the total. The oil and gas industry wants to keep buying up leases despite sitting on a large cache of land waiting to be drilled.

BLM Table 2 (1)

WEA’s lawsuit is another press stunt by the oil lobby group, not a serious attempt at improving the leasing process. While WEA would like the BLM to merely rubber stamp drilling permits across the country, the BLM is instead doing the hard work of striking a balance between industrial development and the many other uses of our national public lands.

Read this post on our blog.

REPORT:

Winning the West

When it comes to winning elections in the West, public lands matter.

Polls from Colorado and Nevada show that Western voters favor a balanced approach to tackling the region’s public lands, energy, and recreation issues.