On Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, the Wyoming Outdoor Council joined a number of organizations in calling on the Secretary of the Interior to enact long-overdue oil and gas leasing reforms that were put forward by Congress as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Finalizing these reforms will protect taxpayers from footing the bill for cleaning up drilling sites, protect wildlife habitat and areas with cultural and historic value, and stop “over-the-counter” noncompetitive lease sales at bargain basement rates.
Pay your way
Bond amounts required to cover clean-up costs for drilling on federal land have not been updated in more than 60 years. The Office of Government Accountability reported in 2019 that 84% of bonds, representing 99.5% of wells on Bureau of Land Management lands, would be insufficient to cover the cost of reclamation even in low-cost scenarios. Oil and gas companies can afford to pay the full costs of properly plugging and reclaiming wells sites and owe it to taxpayers to do so.
No ad hoc nominations
At present, the BLM’s “informal” nomination process allows any company to put forward any parcel of public land for leasing, regardless of the land’s potential to produce oil and gas or how valuable the land is for cultural resources and wildlife. Shifting to a “formal” nomination process could require strategic identification of which lands to make available for nomination ahead of time, upholding the agency’s charge to manage for multiple uses and protecting parcels with high cultural and conservation values.
Identify conflicts ASAP
Under a “formal” nomination process, there could be screens to identify conflicts with other uses, resources, and potential returns to taxpayers. Setting up routine screening with nationwide and state-specific criteria at the outset of the lease sale process would help the BLM identify which lands to lease.
The Inflation Reduction Act did away with noncompetitive leasing, which for decades had allowed companies to pay rock bottom prices to lease public lands that did not receive bids at auction. Despite this, the recent Draft Environmental Assessment for the BLM Wyoming Second Quarter 2023 Federal Oil and Gas Lease Sale included a provision stating noncompetitive leasing would be allowed. Formal revisions to BLM regulations would put a clear end to noncompetitive leasing and create consistency among BLM offices and projects.
Public Lands and Wildlife Advocate