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BLM’s new oil and gas leasing rule to better protect public lands, taxpayers expected this spring

A wide-angle image of oil and gas wells and fracking equipment on snowy remote public lands in northeastern Utah.
WildEarth Guardians
Flickr Creative Commons
An active oil and gas well on public lands in northeastern Utah.

This spring, the federal government is expected to finalize a rule that would require oil and gas companies to pay more to drill on public lands across the Western U.S.

The rule proposed by the Bureau of Land Management would codify provisions made by Congress in the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

That includes charging higher bonding rates, forcing oil and gas companies to pay for cleaning up their drill sites instead of taxpayers footing the bill. The current lease bond amount, established back in 1960, is only $10,000.

The rule proposes to increase it to $150,000 to ensure fossil fuel developers meet their obligations to reclaim abandoned well sites, said Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation.

“Oil and gas companies walk away from these abandoned wells,” Kuhlman said. “It’s really making the oil and gas companies put more money into that process, so we don’t have to care of it.”

The proposal would also eliminate “noncompetitive leasing,” a practice that allows companies to grab land with low potential for production for as little as $1.50 an acre. The low cost allows oil and gas companies to tie up public lands, even if they don’t drill, Kuhlman said.

“The BLM is more or less mandated to run them as an oil and gas property,” he continued. “They can't go in there and do wildlife rehab, they can't improve roads, they can't remove old abandoned fence lines.”

He said the proposed rule would steer oil and gas leasing toward lands with high potential for production and existing infrastructure, like wells and pipelines, and away from wildlife habitat, recreation trails, and cultural sites.

According to the BLM, the federal agency expects to issue a final oil and gas leasing rule this spring.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.