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Oil and gas leasing may be holding back renewable energy progress, report finds

An oil well in front of golden grassy bluffs.
BLM Wyoming
Flickr via CC BY 2.0
The Biden Administration held its first oil and gas leasing sale in late June. The majority of the parcels offered and bid on were located in Wyoming.

News Brief

Depending on where you are in the West, certain lands may be ideal for certain energy projects. The Southwest is good for solar, Wyoming has great wind resources and Nevada is ripe for geothermal development.

However, according to a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, oil and gas leasing often takes precedence no matter the location.

"More than three quarters - 77% - of these prime renewable lands had no potential for oil and gas. But they're still being prioritized for oil and gas," said study author Jenny Rowland-Shea, who examined Bureau of Land Management data in the region.

Rowland-Shea said that's because the current fossil fuel leasing system is relatively easy for companies to navigate. But potential wind, solar, or geothermal projects face more barriers-including environmental reviews and other federal analyses.

To solve this problem, her organization is arguing for more balance from the federal government when it comes to land management.

"If we're thinking about balance on our public lands and what the best to use is, prioritizing oil and gas on these renewable energy lands doesn't make any sense," Rowland-Shea said.

For their part, oil and gas companies argue that public lands often support multiple uses, and that "prioritization" can't be measured in such a black-and-white manner. They also say a lack of transmission lines to major population centers is what's truly slowing down renewable development.

Last month, the Biden Administration held its first oil and gas leasing auction since he took office. Lawsuits from both conservation groups and fossil fuel industry interests are challenging the sales, which granted companies the right to develop on more than 70,000 acres in the West. The vast majority of those parcels, more than 67,000 acres, are located in Wyoming.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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