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BLM Postpones January Lease Sale in Montana, Third Since November

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Montana has postponed a Jan. 26 oil and natural gas lease sale in Billings, MT, the third time since November the agency has delayed an auction (see Daily GPI, Dec. 7, 2015; Nov. 17, 2015).

In a letter in late December, BLM Montana acting associate state director James Sparks attributed the postponement to insufficient time to "coordinate an appropriate venue."

Sparks said one parcel was nominated for sale on federal land in as part of the scheduled Billings sale. He noted in the letter that the environmental review and scoping process for the parcel now has been completed and should be available at the rescheduled auction.

The postponement comes amid increasing pressure from environmental groups against BLM auctions, and at a time when the Obama administration is reportedly poised to make significant changes in how the federal agencies deal with public lands.

Last fall in Utah when BLM postponed a scheduled lease sale, it said the agency needed to allow more time to accommodate "a high level of public interest." At the time, environmental groups applauded the action. “Dozens of citizens" had been planning to protest the auction, BLM said.

BLM officials in various states in recent months have been emphasizing the agency's efforts to make lease sales open to the general public, although some members in Congress have stressed that there is no legal requirement to do so. As activists for the anti-leasing campaign "Keep It in the Ground" show up to protest the auctions, BLM officials have been scrambling to find larger places in which to hold the sales.

A spokesperson in BLM's Montana office said she was unaware of a new policy on the lease sales, but there was concern regarding this sale because it included only one small parcel.

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