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Call for reform as oil, gas leasing on public lands resumes


Big Sky Connection

Helena, MT – President Joe Biden's pause on oil and gas leasing on public lands was overturned, but conservation groups want to ensure the leasing process is limited in scope. The Bureau of Land Management has proposed a lease sale covering more than 6,200 acres in Montana. Comments from Derf Johnson, staff attorney, Montana Environmental Information Center; and Aubrey Bertram, staff attorney, Wild Montana.

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The oil and gas industry has more than 800 approved permits to drill in Montana, according to Wild Montana. (kat7213/Adobe Stock) 

Eric Tegethoff

September 14, 2021
HELENA, Mont. -- Conservation groups in Montana are calling on the federal government to overhaul oil and gas leasing on public lands.

President Joe Biden paused leasing when he came into office, but a federal judge has overturned the moratorium.

On August 31st, the Bureau of Land Management proposed 14 parcels in Montana covering more than 62-hundred acres for a lease sale in February and is seeking public comment on the proposal.

Derf Johnson, staff attorney for the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the Biden administration recognized concerns with the leasing process when they issued the pause.

"America's public lands currently are leased for oil and gas through a system that is broken," Johnson contended. "It rips off taxpayers, it doesn't protect our environment or our climate, and there's a whole slew of administrative problems with the system."

In their letter to the state director of BLM for Montana and the Dakotas, the groups proposed seven reforms to the leasing process. They include limiting the quantity and scope of sales, requiring a royalty rate of at least 18.75% for all leases, and limiting participation by speculators.

The oil and gas industry group Western Energy Alliance initially challenged the pause, arguing Biden had overstepped his presidential authority.

Aubrey Bertram, staff attorney for Wild Montana, said there is an urgent need to curb carbon emissions on public lands. She noted if our public lands were a country, they would be the fifth-largest greenhouse-gas emitter in the world.

Bertram noted the Biden administration has ambitious climate goals, and fossil-fuel extraction on public lands will play an integral role.

"I think it's fair to say that the status quo is not going to get the administration to its goals when it comes to climate resiliency and economic recovery," Bertram asserted. "We know we need to do things differently, and this is a really important chance for the administration to put their money where their mouths are."

Bertram added 20 million acres of public land is already leased across the West. Last week, House Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee voted to include reforms to oil and gas leasing on public lands in the budget reconciliation package.




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