Governor Answers Questions On Land Purchase Bid Withdrawal

Aug 28, 2020

Credit State of Wyoming

After several months of anticipation, Wyoming has withdrawn its bid for roughly four million acres of mineral rights and a million acres of land owned by the oil and gas company Occidental Petroleum. Gov. Mark Gordon had hoped to use those assets to improve the state's rate of return on investments.

Throughout the process, there were questions about what was going on behind-the-scenes. Gordon put out a statement following the state's bid withdrawal looking to answer some of those questions. Wyoming Public Radio's Cooper McKim spoke with the governor to talk through that statement.

Mark Gordon: Obviously, this was a major undertaking to consider and ultimately put forth a bid. There were a number of considerations around it and to make sure that the public was fully aware of what it was we were doing and we did, we wanted to make sure that we put out a statement, as I had promised, that would indicate exactly what we had bid, and the kind of the process that we'd gone through to get there. And so that was the impetus for putting out the statement.

Cooper McKim: So the statement went through some of the information that wasn't public [at the time]. Like who exactly the state met with some legislators, the companies, the banks, that was all disclosed in the statement. Obviously, you know, as you pointed out in the statement, transparency was one of the big points of contention. So, what do you say to those folks who say they wanted more transparency throughout?

MG: Well, with a transaction such as this, there was at least in one bidding round, there were 13 competitors. And in a sort of sealed bid to kind of approach basically saying, here's what Wyoming's going to bid… and so we would have set a value. And it would have been a just a complete sort of academic exercise for us to have disclosed everything Initially, I did feel it was absolutely important that the members of the legislature knew what was going on.

As I mentioned, Cooper, we brought it to the attention of the legislature so they could fully discuss the topic and they did. And they ultimately came up with a number of recommendations on the process going forward. All of which, either we have or would, if we had been successful, would have adhered to.

CM: Orion Mine Finance is the new company in town. Have you spoken with them at all? And do you have any expectations of what that company will mean for the state?

MG: Yeah, I have not had any conversations directly with Orion [Mine] Finance. I understand, sort of, by way of communication that they have reached out to a couple of our agencies. And I have it on good authority that they will be contacting the governor's office. It's certainly an offer that I've extended saying, 'look forward to meeting with you.' And, and so, we feel that that the long term play here is trona. My guess is Orion [Mine] Finance also saw that.

But what was particular for us was the opportunity really to consider blocking up land in a way that would make public access more available, in a way that would safeguard some of our hunting areas and recreational opportunities. I don't know if Orion [Mine] Finance has those on their agenda.

CM: Okay, any other points to add before we sign off here?

MG: Well, a little bit about just the uniqueness of the process. I think normally what the state does in these kinds of transactions is we go through an appraisal process. The size of this was so large that there would be no comparable sales. It really became evident as we were looking, particularly at let's say, the real estate and some of the mineral position that an appraisal wasn't going to be done effectively or in a timely fashion, which is why we reached out to an investment bank. And as I mentioned in the statement, the investment banks that we talked to, actually, I'm aware that three of the ones we talked to- Barclays, Jeffries, and Citi-were all contenders in this. So, in one way or another an investment bank was going to be essential. Essential in understanding what the asset was and essential in completing the transaction should we have been successful.

CM: Well thanks for making time for me, governor.

MG: Thank you.

 

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.