Oil and gas industry seeks to limit the government’s ability to protect public lands from drilling

Pressure from the industry has led to development being out of balance with other uses of public lands. 


The oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance sued the federal government over its leasing practices, alleging that the Bureau of Land Management is violating the law by not offering more public lands in oil and gas lease sales, as reported.

The lawsuit absurdly asserts that the BLM is required by law to offer every parcel of public land for lease that the industry expresses interest in. It also claims that the BLM has been unlawfully canceling and postponing lease sales. At the core of this legal challenge is the oil and gas industry seeking to undermine the BLM’s authority to determine what lands are available for leasing and under what conditions.

The truth is, the BLM has the authority to determine whether lands should be available and offered for leasing – taking into account public input, value for the taxpayer and impacts on resources like wildlife, water, wilderness, air, climate and public health. Despite this fact, the oil and gas industry has been running the roost on our public lands for over a century as evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of our public lands are open to leasing. The industry has 36 million acres of public land currently under lease, of which only 12.6 million acres are in production.

The BLM’s current leasing practices were put in place in 2010 to ensure that the agency and the public have a fair chance to review the lands that the oil and gas industry is interested in leasing. This more focused review includes, consideration for whether those lands should be leased and what protections must be put in place if so. The 2010 oil and gas reforms ushered in a new era of more thoughtful, well-planned and responsible oil and gas development on our public lands. That’s exactly what industry is trying to do away with.

There are numerous ridiculous claims in the lawsuit – but it all boils down to the fact that industry had grown accustomed to running the show on our public lands. Here are the facts:

  • The BLM is under no obligation to offer up for sale every parcel of land that industry nominates.
  • Many recent sales were deferred because the oil and gas industry failed to nominate any lands for leasing in the first place.
  • Other lease sales have been postponed for legitimate safety concerns because of increased public attendance at sales. Nearly all of these sales have already been rescheduled.

Recent research by the Congressional Budget Office showed that only about one in 10 federal leases are ever drilled—the rest expire without any development. The industry doesn’t need to lease more lands for development, it wants to hoard our public lands to pad its bottom line.

The oil and gas industry has more than enough land under lease. It’s time we make room at the table for conservation, recreation and the many multiple uses of our public lands.