Major U.S. oil, gas lease-sale land includes important sage grouse habitat, big-game migration corridors
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A disputed federal oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming that ended Friday was among the biggest recently in the state, bringing in almost $88 million amid environmental groups’ concern that drilling the public land could imperil migrating wildlife and a ground-dwelling bird.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management originally planned to offer the parcels in December but postponed their sale after a federal judge in Idaho ordered the agency to allow more time for public comment before lease sales.
Preliminary results show the five-day online sale ending Friday was the biggest dollar-wise in Wyoming since a $129 million sale in February 2017. About three-quarters of the 565 parcels, which combined covered an area almost as big as Rhode Island, sold this week.
Half of the proceeds go to the U.S. government and half to Wyoming, a welcome infusion for a state struggling with diminished fossil-fuel revenue.
Environmental groups described the sale as the biggest in land area outside Alaska since President Donald Trump took office. The federal land includes important sage grouse habitat and big-game migration corridors, they said.
“This is part of this administration’s disturbing focus on giving away our public lands to the oil and gas industry at the expense of commitments made in the greater sage-grouse plans and their duty to manage these lands for all Americans,” Nada Culver, with The Wilderness Society, said in a release.
Sage grouse are chicken-sized, mainly ground-dwelling birds protected by state and federal land-use policies across much of their 11-state habitat. Largely because of such efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 decided not to protect the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
Wyoming officials will implement state plans to protect sage grouse and migrating game, such as mule deer and antelope, should oil and gas development proceed in wildlife habitat, Gov. Mark Gordon told The Associated Press in a statement.
“Wyoming has been leading in sage grouse management for more than a decade now, and one of our hallmarks has been stability and predictability for all involved,” Gordon said.
The BLM’s last regular, quarterly oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming was unusually small because of the deferred parcel. The regular, quarterly sale in December netted just $4,000.
The biggest quarterly oil and gas lease sale in Wyoming in 2018 totaled $61 million. The BLM will hold its next quarterly Wyoming oil and gas lease sale March 19-20.