Feds Sued For Illegally Refusing To Sell Oil Leases

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Western Energy Alliance (WEA), an industry-aligned interest group, sued the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Thursday for failing to hold quarterly oil and natural gas lease sales on public lands.

Though the Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold quarterly oil and natural gas lease sales in each state where lands are available and industry interest exists, the agency has cancelled lease sales and auctions during the Obama administration. Environmental groups have simultaneously organized to lobby the federal government to postpone the sales so as to discourage or delay drilling on the public range.

In Texas, only one of the eight legally required lease sales has taken place since 2015. Only two of eight have taken place in Oklahoma, and three of eight in New Mexico and Montana, respectively.

BLM has generated $170 million in lease sales, a figure WEA says would increase significantly if BLM followed the legally-prescribed sale schedule. A recent study found that expanding drilling on federal lands could add over $600 billion to the economy. (RELATED: Study: Opening Federal Lands To Drilling Worth $663 Billion Annually)

“Through protests and petitions, the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement is trying to coerce BLM into violating the law by stopping all leasing on federal lands,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at WEA. “Yet without doing anything, activists could achieve the same goal just by leaving BLM to its own devices. Western Energy Alliance is simply asking the courts to compel BLM to follow decades-old law and hold quarterly lease sales in every oil and natural gas state.”

The lawsuit also alleges a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) violations. WEA previously sought information related to the schedule for and timing of oil and gas lease sales for parcels, the cancellation, postponement, or rescheduling of any oil and gas lease sale, provisions for hosting and conducting oil and gas lease sales, and all expressions of interest submitted to the agency which did not result in an offer for sale. BLM invoked various FOIA exemptions or did not respond to the inquiries.

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