The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) failure to keep detailed records about protests against its federal land lease sales to energy companies makes it impossible to determine how often the protests affected the eventual outcome, a government watchdog says.
A review of BLM’s oil and natural gas lease sales in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in 2007-09 found that nearly three-quarters of the parcels were protested by environmental and hunting groups, state and local governments, businesses and private individuals, the Government Accountability Office said. Reasons for the protests included concerns over wildlife habitat, air or water quality, and the loss of recreational or farm land uses.
“We could not measure the extent to which protests affected BLM’s lease sale decisions because of limited information BLM maintains on protests. Not only were protest data incomplete, but BLM did not consistently document the reasons for its deferrals or the extent to which it found protests to have merit,” the GAO said. The lack of information also meant the watchdog could not tell if the BLM modified the acreage or terms of a land parcel because of a protest.
In the states reviewed, about 1 million acres, or 15 percent, of the 6.9 million acres of land included in lease sale notices were deferred or postponed, the GAO said, adding that it could not pinpoint how much of that land had been protested. The watchdog urged the BLM to do a better job of systematically documenting lease sale protests, and to make leasing information more transparent to the public by explaining why the agency included or left out particular land parcels in a sale.
Fast Fact: Federal lands accounted for 5.8 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 12.8 percent of natural gas production in fiscal 2009. Winning bidders for a BLM lease must also pay royalties on any oil or gas eventually produced from the leased land.
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