Oil and gas leases bring opportunity, challenge

On February 6, Friends of Cedar Mesa filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging federal oil and gas leases on lands in San Juan County managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
On the same day, Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that the BLM generated $1.1 billion from oil and gas lease sales in 2018. The leases amount to the highest-grossing year on record, nearly tripling the previous high of $408 million in 2008. 
A total of 1,412 parcels across the nation, covering almost 1.5 million acres, were leased in 2018. This includes 43 leases in San Juan County, covering 51,400 acres of federal lands, which were auctioned in March 2018.
Friends of Cedar Mesa, based in Bluff, argue that the local leases were made “without proper study and acknowledgement of the likely harms to historic, cultural, and natural resources.”
The leases are primarily south and east of Blanding, including areas on and near Alkali Ridge, Recapture Canyon, Jennys Canyon, Mustang Mesa, and Montezuma Canyon.
The lawsuit states, “A total of 1,346 ancient sites have been recorded in the lease area, 984 of which have been deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”
While the lawsuit decries the negative impact of the leases, the BLM praised the positive impacts of the leasing policy.
“This was a historic year for oil and gas, and clearly illustrates what is possible when public lands are put to work using innovation, best science, and best practices,” said Brian Steed, BLM Deputy Director for Policy and Programs.  “Our sound energy policy continues to ensure reliable, safe, abundant, and affordable energy for all Americans, without putting unnecessary burdens on industry.
“In fact, this policy generated nearly as much revenue as the BLM’s $1.1 billion budget for 2018.”
By statute, the BLM is required to offer quarterly oil and gas leases sales of available Federal lands.  BLM state offices conduct lease sales quarterly when parcels are available for lease.
These lease sales represent parcels that cleared environmental review and public comment. The BLM issues both competitive and noncompetitive leases for a 10-year period.
The leases are a contract to explore and develop any potential oil and gas.  The leases may earn an extension if the lessee establishes production, otherwise they pay annual rentals.  
Individual states benefit from the BLM lease sales. 48 percent of lease sale revenue goes to the state while the rest goes to the U.S. Treasury. The state also receives half of the revenue from royalties if oil and gas is developed on the lease. 
In 2017, oil and gas lease sales generated $358 million. 
In 2019, the BLM is scheduled to hold 28 oil and gas lease sales, including four sales in Utah. The first lease sale is scheduled in Salt Lake City on March 25 and 26.

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