Federal oil, gas leases to resume

Nicole Pollack with the Casper Star-Tribune, from the Wyoming News Exchange

CASPER — The Biden administration will resume oil and gas leasing on federal lands, the Department of the Interior said Friday. 

Officials plan to issue final environmental assessments and notices Monday for a “significantly reformed” sale that address “deficiencies” in the existing federal oil and gas leasing program. Roughly 173 parcels will be offered across Wyoming and seven other states, down from the 646 originally considered for sale, more than 70% of which were located in Wyoming.

“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations.” 

In November, following additional environmental review, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reduced the number of Wyoming parcels from 459 to 195. The agency then postponed the sale — the first federal onshore lease sale since President Joe Biden took office last January — over a since-reversed court decision blocking the administration from using its estimate of the social cost of carbon, a measure of climate harm, in federal analyses. 

The BLM has not yet released the date of the upcoming sale or the number of Wyoming leases it will offer. 

Regardless of the details, Wyoming’s oil and gas industry isn’t satisfied. 

“Once again, President Biden’s words don’t match his actions,” Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said in a statement. “Instead of ‘working like the devil’ to bring down gas prices, the administration has decided to lease just 20% of the acreage nominated for potential production by the oil and natural gas industry, all while making production more expensive.” 

The royalty rate at the upcoming sale will — as anticipated — be set at 18.75%, up from the minimum 12.5% the BLM has used for more than a century. Wyoming’s oil and gas companies have been bracing for the royalty increase since November, when the Department of the Interior recommended in its internal review of the federal leasing program that the rate be raised. Two months later, the BLM briefly posted a draft notice that included the 18.75% royalty rate. 

“While we don’t know the exact number and location of the Wyoming parcels, after 15 months without a lease sale in our state, to learn that royalty rates will be increased and available acreage significantly reduced is hardly cause for unbridled celebration,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a statement. “I am concerned that these changes will have a chilling effect on Wyoming companies as they prepare their bids.” 

For many conservation groups, however, the higher royalty rate is a victory.

“At a time when a lot of folks around the country are thinking about increased oil and gas production as a way to kind of bring us a little closer to economic security, there is a focus on on doing it right,” said Alan Rogers, communications director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “To make sure that we’re, No. 1, getting a good value for taxpayers, and No. 2, acknowledging the other values of our public lands.”


This story was published on April 16.


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