By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
The Bureau of Land Management has announced a 30-day comment period for a proposed lease sale in the third quarter of next year.
The proposed sale, which was announced Tuesday, will be the second quarterly lease sale the bureau has proposed for next year.
The latest proposed sale is on 115 oil and gas parcels totalling 95,580 acres in Wyoming. The proposed lease sale for the second quarter 2023 is for 209 parcels totalling 251,086 acres.
Both proposed lease sales are the result of a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act that says the federal government is required to offer at least 2 million acres of federal land for onshore oil and gas leasing before any proposed wind or solar leases are offered.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced her department is taking steps to accelerate solar energy development on public lands in the West.
The BLM is processing 65 utility-scale onshore clean energy projects on public lands, including a few large solar projects in Arizona.
Rare Lease Sales
President Joe Biden’s administration has issued the fewest acres for lease sales of any administration since World War II.
The Petroleum Association and Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit early this month against the Department of Interior for failing to hold quarterly lease sales, which the suit argues is required by the federal Mineral Leasing Act. The state of Wyoming filed its own lawsuit over the same issue.
Whether or not the BLM will hold a lease sale in the fourth quarter of 2023 isn’t certain.
“That’s where the problem is and where our concerns lie,” said Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “When they’re only having one lease sale per year, maybe two at the most, that flies in the face of the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires quarterly lease sales.”
While the IRA requires lease sales tied to renewable energy projects, it also increased minimum bid amounts, royalty rates and rental rates for leased parcels.
Federal leasing is a long, slow process, and much of the oil and gas activity in Wyoming is on federal lands.
McConnaughey said that after the comment period, there is still a long process before a company can begin drilling, including environmental reviews.
The lengthy permitting process allows for multiple opportunities to provide public input, which often invites requests to limit or stop oil and gas development on federal lands.
In other cases, conservation groups use the courts.
On the day the public comment period ended for the second quarter 2023 lease sales, more than 40 environmental groups sent a letter to the Department of the Interior asking that the bureau hold public hearings in the areas where the parcels are located and that the comment period be extended to 45 days.
In September, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, along with the Western Watersheds Project, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia against the BLM to stop a 5,000-well project in Converse County.
The comment period for the latest round of proposed oil and gas lease sales ends Jan. 19.