Castle Valley, Utah
[Posted on behalf of Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams]
On October 18, 2016, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rejected our offers for oil and gas leases made by Tempest Exploration Company, LLC at the agency’s quarterly lease sale in Utah last February.
We are disappointed in the agency’s decision to hold us to a different standard than other lessees. The agency claims that it cannot issue the leases because we did not commit to developing them. The BLM has never demanded that a lease applicant promise to develop the lease before it was issued. In fact, a great many lessees maintain their leases undeveloped for decades, thereby blocking other important uses of the lands such as conservation and recreation.
Tempest Exploration Company met all the legal requirements of the leasing process. We bid on two leases for which there was no other bidder, so as not to prevent another party from acquiring a selected lease parcel. We paid the required fees. We have consistently stated that we would comply with the law and regulations governing management of the leases. We have made clear to the BLM that we would consider developing our leases when science supports a sustainable use of the oil and gas at an increased value given the costs of climate change to future generations. This is the same approach used by oil and gas companies that routinely base their exploration and development decisions on the price of oil and other market factors and often hold their leases for years without drilling.
Currently, there are about 20 million acres of public land under lease that are not being developed for oil and gas. The BLM has “suspended” many of these leases, meaning that the lessees no longer pay rent on them, although they continue to control the land. The BLM has been willing to extend these undeveloped leases in perpetuity, yet the agency put our bids under a microscope. The BLM’s decision to reject our lease bids highlights the agency’s misdirected and antiquated approach to fossil fuels, illuminating their fidelity to the oil and gas industry while willfully ignoring the urgency—in an era of climate change—of more enlightened management of the public lands that belong to the American people.
We are evaluating our legal options to challenge the BLM’s decision, including filing an administrative appeal with the Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals.