Castle Valley, Utah
Today, on behalf of Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams, the Western Environmental Law Center administratively challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) rejection of the Tempest Exploration Company’s October 2016 bids on oil and gas leases in Utah. WELC filed the appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which reviews appeals from bureau decisions relating to the use and disposition of public lands and their resources.
“The BLM’s decision to reject our lease bids highlights the agency’s misdirected and antiquated approach to fossil fuels,” said Terry Tempest Williams. “This case shines a light on BLM’s 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.”
BLM’s rejection of the Tempest Exploration Company’s bids on oil and gas leases holds the company to a different standard than other lessees based on politics. The Williamses met all the legal requirements of the leasing process and bid on two leases for which there was no other interested party. They were forthright about their intent to consider developing the leases when science supports sustainable use of the oil and gas, accounting for the costs of climate change to future generations.
Oil and gas companies routinely base their exploration and development decisions on the price of oil and other market factors and often hold their leases for years or decades without drilling. Currently, about 20 million acres of public land under lease for oil and gas development are not being developed. The BLM has “suspended” many of these leases, meaning that the lessees no longer pay rent on them, although lessees continue to control the land. The BLM has extended these undeveloped leases essentially in perpetuity, yet the agency rejected the Tempest Exploration Company’s bids made under the same economic principles.
The two approaches diverge in that the fossil fuel industry passes the costs of climate change on to present and future generations, where the Tempest Exploration Company would develop only when those costs could be mitigated in the public interest. In 2016 alone, there have been 12 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the U.S. The global economic impact of climate change is estimated at $1.2 trillion each year, representing 1.6 percent of world gross domestic profit (GDP).
“The process for extracting carbon from public lands was developed during a time vastly different from the one we are living in now,” said Brooke Williams. “What is needed in the twenty-first century is restraint and reform.”
“Under the Mineral Leasing Act, Terry Tempest and Brooke Williams have a legal right to have their lease bids considered on an even basis with other bidders,” said Laura King, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center. “It is arbitrary and capricious for BLM to issue leases to oil and gas speculators for the control millions of acres of our public lands, while rejecting bids from those who would hold these lands in the name of a sustainable future.”
A copy of the appeal is available here.
Read more about our work with Terry Tempest Williams and Brooke Williams here.