Fifteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday wrote the Department of Interior (DOI), urging that its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) move its quarterly oil and natural gas lease sales to the Internet. Currently they are conducted face-to-face in BLM field offices.
The letter from the House, including Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), follows the BLM Utah office canceling a sale at the 11th hour, one of two postponed recently (see Daily GPI, Dec. 7 and Nov. 17) and BLM offices announcing Thursday plans for more sales in the first half of next year.
House members raised concerns about "special interests and environmental groups" influencing the BLM to postpone two sales, one involving leases in Arkansas and Michigan and another in Utah, until March and February, respectively, next year. They questioned whether the opponent groups are causing BLM to fail to fulfill its "lawful activities" under the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), adding that the postponements come at a time when the number of new federal leases sold has declined by 57% since 2008.
Citing the Utah postponement last November in which the DOI agency blamed lack of a large enough venue in which to conduct its lease sale, the congressional members said the agency has authorization to conduct onshore lease sales through Internet-based bidding methods. "Therefore, the postponement was unjustifiable," they told DOI Assistant Secretary Janice Schneider.
"These postponements raise serious doubts about BLM's ability to conduct its statutory mandate," the congressional letter said, calling out a "recent statement to news media" by BLM that it was "sorting out" its legal obligations regarding the lease sales. The House members said this raises doubts about the agency's "straightforward obligations under federal law."
Along with asking for BLM to clarify its position on those obligations, the letter goes on to make three requests:
Use online bidding, as necessary, to prevent future sale disruptions;
Reiterate the agency's commitment to enforce the provisions of MLA; and
Follow the law and return to offering quarterly lease sales in each state to help ensure U.S. energy security.
A spokesperson for BLM in Washington, DC, was aware of the letter but had no initial comments on it.
Meanwhile, BLM offices in Utah and Colorado on Thursday took leasing-related steps for future sales. In Utah's Color Country District, the agency was seeking public comments on an environmental assessment on the proposed offering of four parcels covering 6,743 acres in its Richfield field office sale set for May 17. The public comment period ends Jan. 20.
In Colorado, BLM set public meeting dates in three western Colorado locations to get feedback on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Roan Plateau Resource Management Plan (RMP). The meetings are set for Jan. 12-14 (Silt, Battlement Mesa and Rifle, respectively).
"The preferred alternative [in the DEIS] protects the valuable fish and wildlife resources atop the Roan Plateau," said Karl Mendonca, BLM field manager in the Colorado River Valley. "[It] continues the path forward for the Roan Plateau created by a broad coalition of local, state, industry and conversation leaders."
All the latest activities, including postponements and rescheduling, come at a time of continuing lease sale declines. Earlier this year, the BLM Utah office in Salt Lake City reported the results of a quarterly lease sale showed significantly lower proceeds and activity than a year earlier. Separately, a previously scheduled auction in August had been canceled to combine with one planned in November (see Daily GPI, May 20).
Bonus bids totaled $256,000 for 11 parcels covering 13,344 acres; 14 parcels had been offered. In comparison, an auction held a year earlier, before the global oil price crash, drew $2.84 million in bonus bids on 62 parcels covering 50,072 acres. In the November 2014 sale, bonus bids totaled $4.8 million for 64 of 65 parcels offered and 64,701 acres.