Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest


Proposed BLM Oil & Gas Protective Leasing Area

On Thursday, May 28, 2015, Wild Idaho Rising Tide and allied activists plan to protest the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oral auction and sale of leases of public oil and gas and minerals in the Little Willow Creek watershed six miles east of Payette, Idaho [1].  Managing 700 million acres of sub-surface minerals and more acreage (245 million) than any other federal agency, mostly in the western U.S. and Alaska, the BLM operates under the U.S. Department of the Interior.  Its Idaho State Office, at 1387 South Vinnell Way in Boise, will open registration to the public and prospective buyers at 7:45 am on Thursday and will begin the auction at 9 am in the Sagebrush Conference Room, offering five parcels totaling 6,475 acres for minimum lease bids of $2 per acre, following the national standard.  According to a map of the BLM proposed Little Willow Creek oil and gas leasing area, only one of the smaller parcels is available for oil and gas development, while the majority of the tracts could provide opportunities for private extraction of all federal minerals present [2].

Although the BLM asserts that this lease sale would “prevent federally owned oil and gas from being drained without compensation to the United States in the form of royalties,” “by law the Bureau of Land Management cannot auction off public lands to the oil and gas industry unless drainage is actually occurring” [2, 3].  For years, the primary architect of recent oil and gas wells, a processing plant expanded before completion, and gathering lines connecting all of this Payette County infrastructure, Alta Mesa Idaho (AMI) has pressured the BLM to open its public resources to its pursuits.  AMI’s environmentally, socially, and financially irresponsible onslaught of development has begrudged mandated, protracted, public review of BLM leasing proposals within the context of broader federal regulations, significantly more stringent that state oversight.  The Boise-based BLM Four Rivers Field Office confirmed in April 2015 that “no surface occupancy and no subsurface occupancy will be permitted until the Four Rivers Resource Management Plan is completed, which is scheduled for 2016” [1].

In mid-July 2014, the Bureau of Land Management joined the looming fracking fray of the Willow gas field in Payette County.  The Four Rivers BLM office proposed only an environmental assessment (EA) of this industry incursion into mostly split estates in its “oil and gas protective leasing area” [4].  But at a public scoping hearing at the Payette County Courthouse on the evening of July 17, concerned Idaho citizens residing in the vicinity of the BLM lease units and participating in the hearing expressed strong disapproval, and fracktivists pushed for a full environmental impact statement (EIS) [5, 6].  Nominally seeking to identify potential, related, environmental issues and alternatives to its proposal, the BLM requested receipt of comments from individuals and organizational spokespersons by August 11, 2014, sent to blm_id_littlewillowcrkleasescoping@blm.gov.

The BLM ultimately produced only an environmental assessment, instead of a legally essential EIS on its Little Willow Creek leasing proposal, and even released a finding of no significant impact before completion of its EA, reversing the usual, prescribed progression of studies and determinations of action consequences.  It opened this lease project EA to public scrutiny and a 30-day public comment period just before the winter holidays, on December 22, 2014 [7].  Its plan suggested a lease auction by April, which would offer 6,350 acres in five parcels for potential drilling in Payette County, southwest Idaho.  The agency issued a Notice of Competitive Lease Sale, accessible on an Idaho BLM oil and gas leasing webpage or at the Idaho State Office’s public room, and asked the public to file written, mailed or faxed objections with Tracy Hadley (208-373-3899), during a March 2 to March 31, 2015 protest period [8].

BLM officials have been battling the Houston, Texas-based oil company Alta Mesa over the purportedly profitable natural gas field in the Little Willow Creek watershed for years.  The BLM and tribal and climate activists suspect that nearby wells and other infrastructure on adjacent private lands are draining federal mineral resources, without paying U.S. royalties and Idaho taxes, and potentially damaging surface resources.  Alta Mesa fears the precedent-setting, prolonged possibilities of federal laws requiring environmental analysis in an area with plenty of BLM-administered lands and Alta Mesa wells.  In efforts to expedite gas production by the nascent industry in Idaho, Alta Mesa requested that the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission exclude 187 acres of BLM land from a 615-acre drilling unit.

Early September 2014 brought some of the best news ever to emerge from southwestern Idaho gasland, thanks to the prudence of the newly appointed Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the thorough federal review processes that will likely stall Alta Mesa’s reckless lease-and-drill pace on private properties interspersed with BLM lands.  After initially siding with the BLM, likely for state revenue reasons, the Commissioners rejected Alta Mesa’s petition with a 3-2 vote.  But they reversed their decision at a special, live audio-streamed, October 10, 2014 meeting at the Capitol in Boise, in response to Alta Mesa’s request for reconsideration of the Commission’s final September order [9, 10].  Their 4-1 vote favored a May 7, 2015 hearing in Boise, to gather additional evidence.  Alta Mesa suspended its request in late December, and the 2015 Idaho Legislature predictably facilitated industry abuses of clean air, a stable climate, wildlife, and citizens, by passing House Bill 124, a law granting “the five-member Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission the option to exclude federal mineral rights, if the federal government fails to grant leases” [11-13].

In early April 2015, WildEarth Guardians filed an appeal to prevent the federal government from auctioning off 6,000-plus acres of public lands for oil and gas leasing and exploitation in the Little Willow drainage of Idaho [3].  They expect a response before May 28, noting that oil and gas leasing across the American West during May 2015 could portend more risky oil and gas drilling, could poison iconic public lands, and could compound pollution and climate change, not to mention possibly destroy the critical habitat of diminishing species like sage grouse:

Spurred by industry demands, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management is planning to auction off nearly 180,000 acres of public lands oil and gas leases in the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.  Throughout the month of May, a total of 183 lease parcels comprising 179,418 acres of public lands are slated to be sold to the oil and gas industry [14].

Please join Wild Idaho Rising Tide and allies at 8 am on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in the Sagebrush Conference Room of the BLM Idaho State Office, 1387 South Vinnell Way in Boise, as we protest this open, public auction of federal oil and gas and mineral leases surrounding Little Willow Creek in Payette County.  Bring your friends, family, and other associates, as well as your protest signs and spirit of resistance.  We gratefully and eagerly anticipate your participation on Thursday!

[1] Idaho BLM to Hold Oil and Gas Lease Sale (April 30, 2015 Bureau of Land Management Idaho State Office)

[2] Notice of Competitive Oil and Gas Lease Sale on May 28, 2015 (February 27, 2015 Bureau of Land Management Idaho State Office)

[3] Guardians Appeals to Overturn Public Lands Fracking in Idaho (Thursday, April 2, 2015 WildEarth Guardians)

[4] Proposed BLM Oil and Gas Protective Leasing Area (Bureau of Land Management project map)

[5] BLM Begins Process to Lease Oil and Gas Rights in Payette County (July 15, 2014 Idaho Statesman)

[6] BLM Asking for Feedback (July 17, 2014 KTVB)

[7] BLM Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Oil and Gas Lease Sale in Payette County (December 22, 2014 Bureau of Land Management Boise District Office)

[8] BLM to Auction Land Near Payette for Oil and Gas Leases (March 5, 2015 Boise Weekly)

[9] Idaho in Session Special Events (Idaho Public Television)

[10] Idaho Gives Oil Company Second Shot to Exclude BLM (October 13, 2014 Twin Falls Times-News)

[11] Feds Plan to Hold Idaho Oil and Gas Lease Sale (December 24, 2014 East Idaho News)

[12] Senate Committee OKs Plan to Exclude Federal Mineral Rights (March 6, 2015 Washington Times]

[13] Idaho’s Oil and Gas Laws Focal Point of 2015 Legislative Session (April 15, 2014 Idaho Department of Lands)

[14] Climate Denial at U.S. Interior Department, Fracking Free-for-All in Rockies (May 5, 2015 WildEarth Guardians)

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One thought on “Idaho BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest

  1. Pingback: WIRT Newsletter: BLM Oil & Gas Lease Protest Report & Postponed State Auctions, Integration Applications, & WIRT Meetings | Wild Idaho Rising Tide

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