Feds move toward online auctions for oil, gas drilling

Feds move toward online auctions for oil, gas drilling
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Federal officials are clearing the way for online auctions for oil and natural gas drilling rights on federal land.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a rule in the Federal Register Tuesday revising its regulations for drilling rights sales to allow them to be conducted through the internet.

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“The procedural rule is a step forward in the modernization of the BLM’s oil and gas program allowing the agency the flexibility to use either oral or internet-based auctions to conduct competitive oil and gas lease sales, as authorized by Congress,” BLM spokeswoman Kimberly Brubeck said in a statement.

“Internet-based leasing will allow for greater efficiencies, cost savings, and expanded participation in the BLM’s oil and gas lease sale program.”

The change is being made, in part, to reduce the disruptive effect that anti-fossil fuel protesters can have on lease sales.

BLM sale events usually happen in person at agency offices, up to four times per year per state. Environmentalists have protested at numerous sales over the last year, often disrupting the auctions or spurring officials to cancel them.

That, along with concerns about the efficiency, costs, and other potential benefits, has led to pressure from congressional Republicans and the oil industry to move sales online.

The move mirrors that at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is responsible for offshore drilling. Disruptive protesters at a March auction led that agency to close its most recent sale last week to the public and livestream it to the public.

Last year’s defense authorization bill specifically gave the BLM the power to conduct sales online. But the agency decided to formally update its regulations anyway, since they previously required oral auctions.

Tuesday’s rule does not commit BLM to hold sales online. It instead gives the option for individual sales to be held online, and others can still be conducted in person.

— This story was updated at 2:25 p.m.