Eliminating Noncompetitive Leasing on Our Public Lands

MISSOULA, Mont. — The National Wildlife Federation and other conservation organizations applaud a new proposal to help fix the nation’s antiquated oil and gas leasing system. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont) introduced the “Leasing Market Efficiency Act” to eliminate noncompetitive leasing, thereby bringing transparency and fair returns for American taxpayers and ensuring that America’s public lands will be managed for multiple uses, including recreation and conservation.

Oil and gas companies typically compete against one another when buying leases to drill on public lands. However, when acres at auction fail to get any bids, instead of pulling that land from consideration for oil and gas development, the lands are put into the noncompetitive leasing program. 

Nationwide, more than 2.9 million acres of land have been offered up noncompetitively over the last three years. The leases are offered to oil and gas speculators for as little as $1.50 an acre after failing to sell at auction. Usually they aren’t sold at auction because there is little potential of actually finding oil or gas on those lands. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, just 3-percent of lands sold under noncompetitive leases ever get developed.  Not only does this waste time and money for an agency strapped for both, it prevents public lands from being managed for other purposes.

The “Leasing Market Efficiency Act” will require all Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas leases to be issued through a fair, competitive process, instead of through noncompetitive, no-bid auctions. The new system will increase transparency, cut down on waste, and – most importantly – ensure that the BLM is using taxpayer dollars to care for our public lands, not process and manage leases that offer no benefit whatsoever to the public.

“Everyone wants government to work more efficiently,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Senator Tester’s common-sense bill will allow federal land managers to rightfully return to getting to work on the ground, improving wildlife habitat, maintaining clean water, improving trails and recreation sites, and other necessary public lands work.”

"We commend Senator Tester on working to address such a wasteful and outdated practice in the oil and gas leasing system," said Alec Underwood, federal conservation campaigns director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. "Non-competitive leasing is an affront to the taxpayer as well as our cherished fish, wildlife and sporting opportunities. Montana hunters will benefit greatly from increased transparency and the assurance that our public lands will be managed for multiple use."

“Noncompetitive oil and gas leasing siphons time, resources, and taxpayer money away from what the BLM is supposed to be doing – taking care of our public lands, and that means maintaining trails and trailheads, improving fish and wildlife hab­­itat, creating and maintaining river access, monitoring water quality, and ensuring there’s enough law enforcement to protect our natural and cultural treasures,” said Aubrey Bertram, eastern Montana field director at Montana Wilderness Association. “It’s past time we put an end to this practice that is hurting public lands and our ability to use and enjoy those lands.”

"With decreases in budget and staff at the BLM, Senator Tester's legislative proposal is a much-needed lifeline to stop unconscionable exploitation of America's public lands by speculators.  During my tenure as national director of the BLM, there were innumerable instances where speculators took advantage of the noncompetitive oil and gas leases as a gamble where they might win, and the taxpaying American public would lose.  Often speculators would simply abandon the lease, and taxpayer dollars would have to go to cleaning up their gambling mess.  Sen. Tester's legislation would put a stop to this gaming process," said Patrick Shea, director of the Bureau of Land Management from 1997-1999 and deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals at the Department of the Interior from 1999-2000.

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