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As oil and gas lease sales resume, conservation groups issue complaints

Willow Belden
Wyoming Public Media

Oil and gas lease sales on public land resumed this week in eight states, including Wyoming, after a year and a half hiatus, and conservation groups are displeased that the federal government is allowing it.

Conservation groups have filed two lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claiming the agency failed to follow environmental laws when it resumed the lease sales. Additionally, the Powder River Basin Resource Council released a statement calling out the BLM for resuming the lease sales.

Resource Council board member Maria Katherman said the agency did not take the time to improve the process. She added companies should be required to put down a higher bond, or refundable deposit, for each lease they purchase.

“It's infamous that Wyoming lives through the boom and bust cycle because of oil and gas. That’s just the nature of the beast,” Katherman said. “And so it kind of leaves the locals on the hook for footing the bill for cleaning up abandoned wells, damaged country roads, faulty wastewater disposal – that whole thing.”

According to the BLM, bonds are not legally required when a company leases a parcel – only when they move forward with development. Currently in Wyoming, companies are required to put up a minimum bond of either $10 per foot of depth for each well or a blanket bond of $100,000 for the entire well site.

But Resource Council board member Bob LeResche said the bond amount is not high enough.

“This sale will occur before any meaningful improvement to federal bonding requirements, which still do not adequately protect taxpayers from the multi-million- dollar burden of cleaning up orphan and abandoned wells,” he said. “Minimum required bond amounts must be increased to match inflation and changes in technology, complexity and depth of modern wells.”

LeResche added the industry should focus on drilling on parcels that are already leased. Nearly fifty percent of leased land is not being drilled nationwide.

Courtney Whiteman, the Wyoming BLM public affairs specialist, said the agency is following federal regulations, which require parcels to be leased if they are available.

“There are no major conflicts with other resources in the area,” Whiteman said. “But the parcels that get nominated that don't have major conflicts, we are required by law to go ahead with them.”

Meanwhile, 10 other conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the BLM Tuesday, claiming the agency failed to follow environmental laws when it resumed the lease sales. A similar lawsuit was filed Wednesday afternoon by the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth.

The Biden administration had paused lease sales nationwide for a year and a half due to environmental concerns. Typically, sales happen quarterly.

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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