BLM Oil And Gas Lease Sales Challenged In Activist Lawsuit
A pair of environmental groups filed a lawsuit this week against the Bureau of Land Management, accusing the agency’s oil and gas lease sales in Nevada this past June of sidestepping environmental regulations and “surrendering public lands to oil companies.”
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sierra Club launched the suit Monday.
“The BLM’s policy is to promote oil and gas development if it meets the guidelines and regulations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and other subsequent laws and policies passed by the U.S. Congress,” the BLM wrote in its June sale announcement.
“Turning over northern Nevada’s public lands to Big Oil risks polluting the region’s air, water and soil with toxic chemicals while fueling the global climate crisis,” Clare Lakewood, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute said in a statement. “The Trump administration wants to turn public lands into private profits for the fossil fuel industry at the peril of local communities and wildlife.”
The agency conducted the lease sale in Reno on June 14. The sale brought nearly $39,000 in bids for 5,760 acres of the nearly 200,000 acres BLM Nevada offered over 106 parcels of land in Eureka, Nye, and Lander counties.
Sale proceeds are split between the federal government and the state of Nevada.
While the agency does not offer comment on pending litigation, Rudy Evenson, Deputy Chief of Communications for BLM Nevada, told Western Wire via email, “federal law directs the Bureau of Land Management to conduct these lease sales on at least on a quarterly basis. They’re directed by the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Reform Act of 1987, which amended the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.”
“That 1920 law along with the Mineral Leasing Act for Acquired Lands of 1947 gives the BLM responsibility for oil and gas leasing on mineral estate underlaying about 564 million acres of BLM-managed surface lands, National Forest System lands, other Federal lands managed by other agencies, and State and private surface lands where the mineral rights underneath were retained by the Federal government,” Evenson explained.
“Domestic production from Federal oil and gas wells on these lands accounts for about ten percent of the Nation’s natural gas supply and five percent of its oil,” Evenson said.
In July, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pledged to hold regular, quarterly lease sales and make the permitting process more efficient on BLM-held land.
“I follow the law. The law under the Mineral Leasing Act is clear,” Zinke said. “Believe me, there are eligible lands” available for the quarterly lease sales, he continued.
The lease sales have moved online for the balance of 2017, and the effort to expand bidding participation and increase revenues while also addressing agency security concerns has been successful so far, according to BLM officials.
“The online sales take advantage of automation and current industry practices and enable greater participation–not to mention the added benefit of interested members of the public being able to view the bidding via the internet,” Megan Crandall, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management said in July. Crandall told Western Wire “they [online sales] are also more secure.”
Those security concerns comprised bidding integrity but also security issues at lease sale venues over the past few years, as groups opposed to the lease sales, including the “Keep-It-In-The-Ground” movement, sought to block or sabotage the sales themselves, forcing BLM officials to relocate, reschedule, or cancel sales.
“I think we can safely say that we have seen a decrease in truly disruptive activity,” Crandall told Western Wire in July. There was a big difference, Crandall said, between expressions of first amendment rights and anti-fossil fuel activists whose sole purpose was to prevent BLM from conducting mandated sales in any manner possible.
“The disrupters, however, were a different story. So, while we do sometimes see protesters exercising their first amendment rights at state offices when we hold online sales, we have not seen the sale-halting type of disruptions that we sometimes saw in years past when sales were actually conducted onsite,” said Crandall.
In June, the last full round of BLM sales to be completed saw nearly $8.2 million in proceeds from parcels covering nearly 130,000 acres across Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Arkansas.
The Nevada sale at the heart of the lawsuit was part of the June quarterly sale. Another quarterly sale for Nevada oil and gas leases will take place today.
Activists were able to hold up approximately $145 million in BLM lease sale proceeds, $70 million of which was headed to the state of New Mexico, by protesting the September 2016 quarterly lease sale in that state. The payment was delayed for months as groups like the WildEarth Guardians joined CBD in opposition to the sale of parcels located in the fast-growing Permian Basin.
“While this is welcomed news for our state at a time when budgets are tight, it’s utterly disappointing to see radical special interest groups repeatedly hijack these lease sales at the expense of our schools, public safety, and healthcare,” New Mexico Oil & Gas Association spokesperson Robert McEntyre said in a statement to Western Wire in June, after the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration confirmed the proceeds had finally been received by the state.