Energy & Environment

Watchdog: Interior wastes resources on land never leased for drilling

The Interior Department is wasting money and other resources on applications for land that will never be leased for oil and gas drilling, according to a report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The analysis found that of 87 million acres nominated for leasing by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) between 2009 and 2019, 69 million were never offered at auction, and of the 18 million auctioned, 4 million were never leased.

The gap can be even more dramatic at the state level, according to the GAO. For example, in the same decade, about 60.7 million acres were nominated for leasing in Nevada, compared to more than 7 million offered at auction, or about 12 percent. The smallest gap between acreage nominated and acreage offered at auction was in Wyoming, where 8.7 million acres were nominated and 5.49 million were offered at auction.

In addition, the bureau has not updated its application fees in more than 15 years, despite the fact that an update could provide revenues to offset the inefficiency, according to the report. BLM should also consider charging a fee to nominate lands, the report adds, noting that it has not considered such a requirement since 2014.

“Without doing so, BLM risks continuing to expend resources to process nominations that do not result in leases,” the report states. “In addition, the agency may not strike the appropriate balance between encouraging nominations and controlling costs.”

BLM officials told the watchdog that implementing such a fee would disincentivize industry actors from nominating lands that they had no intention of leasing.

The report comes during an ongoing legal battle over leasing on federal lands.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden ordered a freeze on oil and gas leasing on public lands, but a federal court ordered an end to the pause over the summer. The administration is currently appealing the ruling but has resumed leasing in the meantime.

The Interior Department also recommended increasing fees for drilling itself in a November report.

Tags drilling on public lands Joe Biden public lands drilling
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