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Neither Petroleum Association or conservation groups satisfied with upcoming BLM oil and gas lease sale

Stephanie Joyce

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) issued a letter of protest Wednesday, regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) reduction in oil and gas leases. Shortly after, conservation groups from eight states submitted their own letters of protest.

The BLM is offering less than a third of requested oil and gas leases in Wyoming in an upcoming sale in June. A total of 129 parcels will be up for sale, with 321 deferred and 27 deleted.

“The leases that they did offer for sale, many of them are in some of the most remote, most difficult places to reach,” Pete Obermueller, PAW president, said.

Obermueller said the leases up for sale might not be financially beneficial to the industry.

PAW argues the BLM does not have the legal authority to deny the sale of the other land parcels due to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).

“FLPMA is the vehicle that determines which lands are and are not available and is accomplished during the development of a Resource Management Plan (RMP),” PAW wrote in protest letter.

It goes on to read that when a parcel is approved through the FLPMA and is nominated for sale, “the BLM is obligated to put that parcel up for competitive bid during a mandatory quarterly lease sale…. the BLM cannot outright deny a parcel being available for competitive bid.”

However, Linda Baker, executive director of the Upper Green River Alliance in Pinedale, said under the National Environmental Policy Act the leases can legally be deferred for further review.

“It makes common sense to review the necessity of leasing some of those parcels, especially some of those that are in the most sensitive wildlife habitats that we have,” Baker said. “For example, the Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration quarter is one of the longest overland migration corridors in the Western Hemisphere. And, some of those leases are directly in the middle of that migration corridor.”

Conservation groups from eight states issued their own letters of protest the same day as PAW in regards to the upcoming lease sales in June. They argued that the BLM “isn’t legally required to conduct lease sales and that its plans fail to prevent climate pollution and harm to people and the environment.”

The conservation groups said the fossil fuel industry is driving climate change.

“As we look at these upcoming lease sales across the West, we know that our public lands are one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gasses in the country,” Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club’s director of the Lands, Water and Wildlife campaign, said. “As we do the important work to move away from oil, the first thing we need to do is to stop looking for new oil.”

But, PAW said modern day drilling technology has “diminishing impact on surface lands.” Ritzman said while this is true for the actual drilling itself, this does not take into account the “spider web” of development on land through roads and pipelines, as well as greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere.

Obermueller said PAW does not expect its letter of protest to change the BLM’s decision to defer the lease parcels. He said PAW is exploring legal options.

Just last week, industry leaders argued in Wyoming’s District Court that it was illegal for the Biden administration to pause oil and gas leases for 18 months. The court ruling is pending.

The BLM did not respond for comment.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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