Energy Alliance Challenges BLM on Last-Minute Lease-Sale Cancellation

Published February 14, 2014

Western Energy Alliance, an organization of energy producers in the western United States, is challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s last-minute decision to remove 57 parcels of land from an oil and natural gas lease sale. The energy group argues BLM violated federal law and federal administrative procedures to remove the parcels just five days before the scheduled sale.

Last-Minute Letter Blocks Sale
On August 16, 2013, BLM issued a Notice of Competitive Lease Sale for 82 parcels BLM manages in Utah. On November 14, BLM Utah State Office director Juan Palma removed 57 of the parcels from the planned November 19 sale despite a federal environmental assessment supporting the lease sale. Palma said he removed the parcels in response to a letter sent on November 7 by the Utah Rock Art Research Association opposing the sale.

According to Western Energy Alliance, BLM could not lawfully pull back the planned lease sale for several reasons. Among the cited reasons, the Utah Rock Art Research Association submitted its objections more than two months after the conclusion of the lease sale’s public comment period, and the decision deviated from long-established administrative procedures regarding lease sales.

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at Western Energy Alliance, said it’s important that the Utah Rock Art Research Association failed to participate in the public comment process during the designated time period. In addition, the lease sale includes environmental protections that will preserve rock art resources, said Sgamma. 

“Extra protections were stipulated for rock art resources, in addition to the National Historic Preservation Act requirements for cultural resource surveys which oil and natural gas companies must conduct,” Sgamma explained.

2014 Lease Sale Sought
Western Energy Alliance filed an appeal with the Department of the Interior’s Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) on January 13 and is requesting the 57 parcels of land deferred last year be made available for lease in the next lease sale. If Western Energy Alliance is successful in its appeal, the parcels would become available in November 2014.

Facts May Grant Rare Victory
Energy producers rarely have much success challenging BLM decisions to stifle oil and natural gas production. Nevertheless, Sgamma said the facts regarding the 57 canceled parcels will make it difficult for BLM to justify its decision.

“This is a clear case of BLM not following its own procedures, so we’re hopeful that the IBLA judges will rule in our favor,” said Sgamma. “However, they may just reprimand BLM and say it needs to follow the policy, rather than doing what we’ve asked, which is to require that those parcels be offered at the next sale,” Sgamma said.

“BLM has 30 days to file a response with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, but they often ask for and take 60 days. A decision could take several months after that,” she added.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.