Tight timetable on federal oil and gas lease sales is scrambling protests

By: Mark Jaffe, The Journal
July 30, 2018 6:19 PM

Oil and gas leasing on federal lands is revving up in Colorado and across the West, with shorter time frames for comment and bigger lease sales as environmental groups rush to meet Monday’s deadline to get in their protests on the upcoming September lease sales.

“We’ve gone from a 30-day protest period to a 10-day period … We’re scrambling,” said Nada Culver, a senior counsel with the Wilderness Society, a national environmental group. “We don’t have a lot of time to weigh in.”

The time frames for review and public comment on oil and gas lease sales have been cut as part of a regulatory streamlining by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in large part to further the Trump administration’s goal of developing the nation’s energy resources.

The Bureau of Land Management, a division of the Interior Department that manages 248 million acres of federal land and oversees oil and gas leasing on that land, was directed to step up the pace on its quarterly lease sales.

The leasing process has been “condensed” to six months, when in the past it might take a year or more for parcels to come up for auction, said Rebecca Baca, BLM oil and gas leasing lead for Colorado.

While environmental groups are voicing concern about the speed of the process, industry officials see it as a rebalancing.

“We are now where companies who want to purchase leases and move forward with development, can move forward with more certainty,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group. “It is getting on with the business of leases.”

The Colorado lease sale for September includes 20 parcels in about a half-dozen counties covering 6,894 acres, with parcels ranging in size from 20 acres to 1,265 acres. Most of the proposed leases are in Garfield and Weld counties.

Parcels can be nominated for auction by anyone, though it is usually done by drillers or landowners. Often, there is no public information about who is the nominator. The nominator doesn’t have to pay a fee or even bid on the parcel.

Washington has been pressing for more lease sales even when there aren’t nominations, said Matt Sandler, attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild, an environmental group.

Emails obtained by Rocky Mountain Wild through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the Colorado BLM office was considering not having a March 2018 lease sale because it didn’t have any new nominations.

“We’ve been seeing some push back from the Main Interior, regarding lease sale postponements,” Jennifer Spencer, a BLM leasing minerals specialist, wrote in an email to Rachel Vaughan in the Colorado office.

“I would echo what Jennifer said below. I talked to Rachel about it yesterday,” Jully McQuilliams, a Washington-based BLM senior minerals leasing specialist, said in a follow-up email.

The BLM Colorado office ended up nominating parcels for the March sale.

Read more at The Journal.

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