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Home Wild Word The Time for Oil and Gas Lease Reform Is Now
Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
May 15 2020

The Time for Oil and Gas Lease Reform Is Now

Companies could take control of thousands of acres of public lands in central Montana as early as next summer if we don't act

While most of us have been home practicing self-isolation and focusing on the health and safety of our families, the Department of the Interior under Sec. David Bernhardt has been carrying on with decision making that will impact public lands across the country for decades to come.

Right now, the public lands most at risk in Montana are those administered by the Bureau of Land Management’s Lewistown Field Office – an area that spans from the Rocky Mountain Front east to the Musselshell River. The lands in this broad landscape encompass what truly make Montana the Last Best Place: world-class wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities; clean, free-flowing rivers; scenic mountains; spectacular badlands; and expansive, intact grasslands. 

In their own analysis, the BLM and U.S. Geological Survey, which are both housed in the Department of the Interior, have found that there is “little to no potential” for oil and gas recovery in this area. Nonetheless, the BLM’s Lewistown resource management plan, which we expect to be finalized in the coming months, would open 95% of these lands to the oil and gas industry and make them available at four-times-a-year lease sales over the next 20 to 30 years.

Leases that are put up for bidding at one of the quarterly auctions, and do not sell, can then be sold off the shelf for $1.50 an acre per year, which then allows buyers to manage parcels of public land mostly as they see fit for 10 years or more, and that can mean locking the public out of future recreation opportunities and potentially destroying important wildlife habitat.

This noncompetitive leasing, coupled with the energy-dominant agenda governing the BLM, sets the stage for a bargain-basement sell-off of public lands and crucial big game habitat in central Montana as soon as this year, at a time when the industry is already sitting on 1.9 million acres of leased lands in Montana alone, at a time when the oil and gas market is at a historic low. The leases would be flooding an already saturated market. 

We need to act. Sign our open letter calling on our congressional delegation to introduce legislation ending noncompetitive oil and gas leasing.



Montana is ground zero for noncompetitive leasing. 32% of all leased lands in Montana have been leased for $1.50 per acre under this noncompetitive scheme. 

Noncompetitive oil and gas leasing creates no jobs, hurts our local economies, and, in the case of central Montana, is unlikely to lead to any oil and gas production. But that will not stop speculators from buying up the rights to thousands of acres of public lands for pennies on the dollar – simply so they can bolster their portfolios and make their companies look more attractive to investors. 

The BLM leases public lands to private companies on the presumed condition that the resources will be developed, and that the trade-off in jobs, royalties, and other income is worth not managing those lands for wilderness, wildlife habitat, and the outdoor recreation economy. But the market is saturated with oil and gas leases on public land, and the last thing these companies need is more access to our public lands at absurdly subsidized prices. 

The threat to central Montana’s wildest places is not abstract: these lands could be in private hands by next summer, and the agency has demonstrated it has no interest in keeping central Montana wild. 

Join us in calling on Congress to legislatively end noncompetitive leasing, putting a halt to this practice that is hurting local economies, endangering irreplaceable landscapes, and only benefitting private industry. 

Also, sign up here for our oil and gas newsletter. We’ll send regular news roundups, updates, and opportunities to take action right to your inbox. 

And finally, we can’t change a 100-year-old system without your support. Please consider making a donation to help fund our fight.

Aubrey Bertram
Eastern Montana Field Director

Aubrey works with communities to protect eastern Montana’s prairies, badlands, and island mountain ranges. She spends her time skiing, hiking, and running, volunteering with civic organizations in Billings, exploring public lands with her two dogs, and napping on the couch with her two cats.
Email Aubrey