This opinion piece was written and submitted by Alan Rogers Wyoming Outdoor Council Communications Director
LANDER — A report released today by the Wyoming Outdoor Council shows that indiscriminate oil and gas leasing on federal public lands in Wyoming has threatened wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing, and outdoor recreation without contributing to an increase in mineral production or providing a fair return to American taxpayers.
While the number of acres leased by the Bureau of Land Management has skyrocketed since 2016, the number of new acres in production has remained below 2013 levels. This disparity indicates speculative leasing: With the BLM offering huge amounts of public land for a minimum bid of $2 an acre, companies have an incentive to buy up — and sit on — cheap leases on parcels with low potential for producing oil and gas.
“All of us in Wyoming are tied to our public lands in one way or another,” Outdoor Council conservation advocate John Rader said. “Hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, ranching, and just enjoying the peace and solitude of our wide-open spaces are an important part of life here. Of course, jobs and revenue from development on federal land are part of that puzzle, too. That’s all the more reason we shouldn’t be giving public land away for pennies on the dollar.”
The BLM has consistently leased swaths of land within mule deer migration corridors and crucial winter range, as well as Greater sage-grouse habitat. Both species have seen dramatic population declines amid widespread habitat loss, and sage-grouse face a potential Endangered Species Act listing if the BLM continues to ignore its requirement to prioritize development outside the bird’s habitat.
The rush to offer a glut of leases has also created uncertainty for energy companies, who may be less likely to invest in development if the BLM’s decisions might be overturned in court. Earlier this year, a federal judge voided two Wyoming lease sales from 2018 because the agency illegally reduced public participation.
Here are some statistics from the Outdoor Council’s report, the first in a two-part series:
- The BLM manages 18 million acres of public lands in Wyoming
- As of March 2020, 10.7 million acres were already leased for oil and gas production
- 10.7 million acres = 4.8 times the size of Yellowstone National Park
- In February 2019, 760,000 acres were leased during a single lease sale
- Parcels not bid on at auction can be sold “over the counter” for $1.50 an acre
The BLM needs to respect the balance of wildlife habitat, recreation, and historical and cultural resources on our public lands and put a stop to this speculative leasing.
Founded in 1967, the Wyoming Outdoor Council is the state’s oldest and largest independent conservation organization. Its mission is to protect Wyoming’s environment and quality of life for present and future generations.