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Last federal oil and gas lease sale of the year in Wyoming set

Last federal oil and gas lease sale of the year in Wyoming set

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Oil Well

A pumpjack operates at an oil well site in 2019 in rural Sweetwater County. Wyoming's last federal oil and gas lease sale of 2020 is set for December.

The Bureau of Land Management will open up about 280,162 acres of public land for oil and gas development in its final sale of the year.

The December sale will include 61 nominated parcels, along with 200 parcels previously deferred from the June and September sales.

The federal government offers a selection of nominated parcels to oil and gas companies in an online bidding process, typically four times a year. The bureau usually hosts the competitive sales in March, June, September and December, but the pandemic has made this year an anomaly.

The agency postponed a Wyoming oil and gas lease sale scheduled for June, along with sales in several other Western states, in response to COVID-19.

The September sale was also significantly curtailed. Of the 290 parcels the agency originally intended to lease in the two September sales, only eight parcels covering about 4,000 acres were made available to oil and gas developers in Wyoming due to a federal court ruling made in Montana this spring. The federal judge concluded the U.S. Interior Department had failed to properly prioritize leasing public land outside sage grouse core habitat for energy development during several quarterly lease sales. As a result, it vacated multiple oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming.

The BLM responded by deferring several parcels in sage grouse habitat and committing to build a new “prioritization strategy.”

“We offered all nominated parcels outside sage-grouse habitat in Wyoming earlier this year,” according to Courtney Whiteman, a public affairs specialist at the Bureau of Land Management’s Wyoming state office. “Now that we’ve done that, we plan to offer parcels in general sage-grouse habitat while continuing to defer parcels in priority habitat. We’re using this prioritization strategy to comply with the Montana District Court ruling on sage-grouse prioritization for leasing, and we plan to continue using this strategy until a sage-grouse prioritization strategy is finalized and approved.”

Oil and gas developers have also been slammed by depressed market conditions caused by a glut in oil worldwide and global economic recession.

The ubiquitous heads of pumpjacks, usually faithfully bobbing up and down across Wyoming’s prairie, have largely come to a standstill.

Half of the money collected by the federal government during the quarterly auctions, as well as mineral royalties associated with leases, flow back to the state. But oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming have brought in just $4.7 million from sales so far this year. In 2019, bids brought in $140 million.

The agency will accept “public protests” on the December sale until Nov. 14 at https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2001491/510. This year’s final sale will take place online the week of Dec. 14 at www.energynet.com.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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