Feds will include fewer Wyoming tracts in oil and gas lease sale

CASPER — The federal government will include one-third fewer Wyoming tracts than anticipated in the first oil and gas lease sale of the Biden presidency — about 28 percent of the 459 parcels analyzed across the state last fall. 

A total of 129 offerings “containing about 131,771 acres of public minerals” will be available for leasing in Wyoming on June 21 and 22, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said Monday. 

Roughly another 44 parcels will be up for sale in seven other Western states. 

The sale, originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2022, was postponed due to a since-reversed court order barring the Biden administration from using its estimate of climate harm to inform decisions about leasing.

It’s now set for the final days of the second quarter — nearly a year and a half after the administration’s announcement that it would suspend new oil and gas leasing on federal lands until the program could be reviewed and reformed. 

Comparatively, in 2019, before COVID-19 caused interest in leasing to temporarily plummet, the BLM under the Trump administration included 160 Wyoming parcels in its second-quarter sale notice. 

Public comment on the upcoming sale will be accepted through May 18. 

Reactions from interest groups to the Biden administration’s announcement Friday that the BLM would resume leasing but reduce the total number of leases substantially ran the gamut from enthusiasm to outrage. The details, released late Monday, didn’t change overall reception much.

To some conservation groups, the decreased number of potential leases and higher royalty rate of 18.75 percent — the first time in more than a century that the BLM has set the royalty for new leases above the federal minimum of 12.5 percent — was a victory. 

“It’s high time to halt the underpriced giveaway of federal lands and mineral resources and reframe leasing to better serve American taxpayers, state treasuries, public land users, and the millions of citizens suffering accelerating harm from climate change,” Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin Resource Council board member, said in a statement. 

The Wyoming Outdoor Council, Taxpayers for Common Sense and other groups also advocating for a higher royalty rate celebrated the “long-overdue” announcement. 

But to the conservation groups that want federal oil and gas leasing to end, the news felt like a betrayal. 

“The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts, and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.” 

The Sierra Club criticized the move, calling it a handout to oil companies. 

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said it was “pure climate denial.” 

Meanwhile, to an oil and gas industry already angered by the yearlong pause on leasing, the reduction came as yet another blow — one that is, according to Western Energy Alliance president Kathleen Sgamma, “unwarranted.” 

In Wyoming, where nearly half of the land and more of the minerals are federally owned, industry is especially nervous about whether, and how significantly, the changes could affect companies’ willingness to drill. 

Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said reducing the number of available leases and raising the federal royalty rate “is going to put Wyoming in a difficult position.”