Non-profit suing BLM over lease sales

Maddy Hayden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

The Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday, due to their failure to conduct an adequate number of oil and gas lease sales annually.

The lawsuit cites the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires each state hold at least four land lease sales every year where eligible lands are available.

Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Kimberly Brubeck said the BLM is aware of the lawsuit but is unable to comment on pending litigation.

"Lease sales shall be held for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly and more frequently if the Secretary of the Interior determines such sales are necessary." — Mineral Leasing Act 

The Western Energy Alliance is a non-profit organization that represents around 300 companies in the oil and gas industry.

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, said the Bureau of Land Management is often hampered by its own bureaucracy when planning sales.

"In 2010, the Department (of the Interior) made leasing changes and those policies have resulted in leasing taking two years, where it used to be a matter of months," Sgamma said.

Those changes were made to provide more opportunity for public comment and to improve the environmental screening process for available parcels.

The changes also instituted sale scheduling restrictions, in which sales must be held in each district where land is available on a rotational basis.

"There's still a lot of interest in the Permian Basin, but lease sales will only happen there once a year," Sgamma said.

Only two oil and gas lease sales were held in New Mexico in Fiscal Year 2015 and only once during this fiscal year. Some were due to postponements, and others were due to a lack of expressions of interest.

Sgamma said New Mexico also suffers more than some other states because the BLM administrates Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Kansas together.

The lawsuit seeks the rescindment of policies Sgamma said are creating the problem (including the rotational policy) and for the BLM to begin carrying out four oil and gas lease sales in each state each year.

Maddy Hayden can be reached at 575-628-5512.