Analysis reveals extent of bargain oil and gas leasing on public lands

Apr 16, 2020

Updated mapping analysis finds 30 percent of active leases acquired over last three decades purchased for $2 per acre or less

Center for Western Priorities

DENVER—Today, The Wilderness Society and the Center for Western Priorities released an updated geospatial analysis and story map, America’s Public Lands Giveaway, that uses a tool developed by The Wilderness Society to map federal onshore oil and gas leases, identifying instances where public lands leases were sold for bargain prices.

According to the analysis, the oil and gas industry currently leases 22.1 million acres of public lands across ten Western states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. 

Since 1987, when Congress passed the last major amendment to the Mineral Leasing Act to establish the current oil and gas leasing process, 30 percent of all public lands and minerals actively leased for oil and gas were sold for just $2.00 per acre or less. Such low cost leases shortchange taxpayers and incentivize speculation on public lands as part of an outdated leasing system that is tilted in favor of the oil and gas industry.

[Click here to view the story map]

Nearly half of actively leased acres are currently sitting idle, generating only $1.50 per acre for taxpayers annually and preventing those lands from being actively managed for conservation and recreation. The leases purchased for $2 per acre or less expire or are terminated at much higher rates than leases purchased competitively. 

Since 2017, the Trump administration has offered over 7.3 million acres of public lands in Western states to the oil and gas industry at auction. 2.7 million acres failed to sell at auction are currently available for purchase for just $1.50 per acre. 

The story map takes a closer look at iconic landscapes under pressure from oil and gas leasing and development and provides a number of policy changes Congress can take to modernize and update the century-old leasing system. The mapping analysis was originally released in September 2019. 

[Click here to view the story map]