The Bureau of Land Management raked in $10.8 million from the final quarterly public land sale in Wyoming of the year, the federal agency announced Wednesday.
Several of the purchased parcels dotted throughout the state fell within Sublette and Park counties.
Wyoming produces more energy on public land than almost any other state in the country.
The bureau released 160 of the 169 nominated public land and mineral parcels to energy companies for purchase. The withdrawn parcels conflicted with designated big game migration corridors and existing coal mining operations, the bureau concluded.
The state receives about half of the funds made through federal lease sales. Last year, the sales brought $117 million back into the Equality State’s coffers. A portion of royalties paid by companies for extracted minerals also flow back to the state. According to a state economic report, 43 percent of the Wyoming School Foundation program’s revenue comes from mineral taxes and royalties.
Of the 8 million acres of public land leased out by the federal government at the end of fiscal year 2018, about half were producing, according to the bureau. After winning a parcel during the online sale, oil and gas companies must then obtain drilling permits before they can commence extracting minerals on the 123,258 acres of leased land.
Between 2008 and 2018, drilling activity on federal land in Wyoming declined by 27 percent. Significant dips in the state’s natural gas production have stirred particular concern from operators in recent months.
The Bureau of Land Management held five lease sales in 2019, including a special sale in February. The agency delayed thousands of acres from last year’s final quarterly sale until a Feb. 25 to March 1 sale after environmental groups mounted a legal challenge against the agency over its leasing process.
Statewide lease sales have garnered opposition from conservation groups and some landowners, who contend the Trump administration’s energy dominance strategy has sparked a race to claim thousands of public acres in sensitive habitats, at the expense of the environment and the public.
Thirteen conservation groups filed six separate protests opposing much of the sale. The groups expressed particular concerns over the expansion of oil and gas activities in critical sage grouse habitats and mule deer migration corridors. Population declines in sage grouse and mule deer populations have sparked a heated effort from conservation groups to uphold wildlife protections.
“In this December lease sale, (the Bureau of Land Management) is again offering tens of thousands of acres of public land for oil and gas development in some of Wyoming’s most important and sensitive wildlife habitat — at bargain basement prices,” John Rader, a conservation advocate at the Wyoming Outdoor Council, said in a statement.
“Almost all of the 160 parcels on the table are in designated sage grouse habitat, and dozens are located in mule deer crucial winter range. At a time when half the leases in Wyoming are sitting idle, (the bureau) keeps tying up public lands, threatening our wildlife and risking our access for more speculative leasing. Where’s the balance?”
A geospatial analysis released this year by the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, found 1.3 million acres of active leases on Wyoming land sold for $2 or less an acre, often in noncompetitive sales. The sales limit public access to land for recreation and compromise sensitive wildlife habitats without appropriately compensating taxpayers, the study concluded.
The protests also outlined the threat greenhouse gas emissions posed to the climate. The bureau addressed but dismissed all the protests.
This year’s federal lease sales fetched about $141 million, a 20 percent increase from last year.
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