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Blog

Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.

 

Standing up for recreation and the public process in oil and gas leasing

Tania Lown-Hecht

Over the last two years, this administration has been aggressively leasing off public lands to developers without input from public lands owners, in some cases giving away the rights to these lands for less than $2 an acre. 

Recently, Outdoor Alliance discovered that the BLM is planning to offer up a number of parcels of land in Utah with climbing, mountain biking, boating, and new trails for lease to oil and gas companies. We recently submitted a comment to the BLM, which you can read by clicking here. This comment period was unusual in that it was 30 days long (ending July 1), which allowed us more time to evaluate potential issues. A few other groups and the BLM have also identified some conflicts.

The sale, which will take place in September, includes 183,668 acres split into 149 parcels. Several of these have significant outdoor recreation, including boating and fishing on the Price River, mountain biking on newly-built trails near Richfield, and climbing at Redmond Rocks. For instance, near Redmond, Utah, the BLM is offering up a parcel of land with a number of year-round rock-climbing sites, all of which are close to parking and high-quality camping. The lease sale fails to even acknowledge that climbing resources exist in the parcel.

The BLM is required to consider the effects of oil and gas leasing on recreation (and other interests) before committing to lease sales, yet it has not done so. Outdoor recreation is a huge business in Utah, supporting 110,000 direct jobs and a $12.3 billion outdoor recreation economy. These statewide lease sales could significantly harm recreation resources and outdoor recreation brand of local communities in Utah. 

Utah is not the only place where lease sales threaten recreation and public lands, but it’s been challenging to keep up with the sales, especially with short comment periods. Thanks to support from the outdoor community, Outdoor Alliance’s GIS Lab has been working to identify conflicts between these sell offs and outdoor recreation. We’ve gotten more engaged in advocating for our community’s interests in the lease sale process, the effects of changes to the public process implemented under DOI’s “energy dominance” agenda have come into clearer relief. Very tight comment windows, frequent lease sales, and an opaque process can make even identifying our community’s interests and sharing them with BLM a challenge—letting aside the even bigger issue of actually protecting the places that matter most.

A new bill introduced by Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) would codify some key reforms the leasing process to protect public input and mitigate the effects of some of Interior’s most egregious policy changes.

You can read our full letter of support about the bill, H.R.3225, “Restoring Community Input and Public Protections in Oil and Gas Leasing Act of 2019,” by clicking here.

In short, here’s why this would make a big difference to protect public lands from oil and gas giveaways:

1.     Protects the public process. One of the key reasons the administration has been able to move so quickly to give away public lands to oil and gas companies is because they’ve drastically curtailed opportunities for public input that help ensure balance on public lands. In many cases, comment periods on these new leases are just 10 days, making it extremely difficult to acquire maps, run analyses, write comment letters, and then submit them to multiple field offices. The practical effect of these really short windows is to minimize or eliminate real public engagement. Although resource extraction is a valid use of national lands, there are laws that require us to balance resource extraction with other uses, including public access and recreation. This is increasingly important as recreation becomes a bigger part of the economy. Recent analysis shows that outdoor industry accounts for 2% of the GDP, making it an even greater economic driver than oil and gas. Rep. Levin’s bill would require longer comment periods that ensure adequate time to identify potential conflicts and let the public have its say.

2.     Reinstates Master Leasing Plans. Stay with us: the idea of Master Leasing Plans is that there should be some high-level planning to help set expectations across broader landscapes and recognize that there are places, even on lands managed for multiple use, where drilling is not appropriate or should be subject to certain restrictions. We worked extensively on Moab’s Master Leasing Plan to balance energy development with recreation on a landscape adjacent to National Parks. The administration put an end to Master Leasing Plans, which has increased conflicts between energy development and other activities. Rep. Levin’s bill would reinstate Master Leasing Plans to allow for better balance on these multiple-use lands.

Rushing to lease off public lands for development at rock bottom prices without enough time to screen for conflicts means that some of these newly-leased lands will overlap with important recreation resources, or water sources, or cultural resources. As we shared in our letter, the BLM has a multiple-use mandate, meaning that it’s required to consider recreation, fish and wildlife, and grazing equally with energy development. Right now, the laws around these lease sales are loose enough that the BLM can go ahead with really short comment periods or onerous comment requirements that make it difficult for the public or organizations like Outdoor Alliance to comment. Rep. Levin’s recent bill would be a good first step to codify some important reforms to the leasing process that make sure oil and gas leasing is fair and transparent. You can send a quick message to your lawmaker using the tool below letting them know that you support the bill: