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It Just Got Easier for Oil and Gas Companies to Lease Public Lands

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U.S. public lands are getting hit from all angles these days. Not only can those interested in gold and uranium mining now explore treasured lands like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, but oil and gas interests can now access all public lands in a much quicker, less regulated way.

In a memo the Bureau of Land Management released Thursday, the federal agency made clear that it wants oil and gas drilling to happen on public lands with as few “impediments and burdens” as possible. The bureau is working its hardest to meet the “energy independence” expectations President Donald Trump laid out in his March executive order. (We knew that already though, right?)


The memo explained this decision would “expedite the offering of lands for lease” by, first, eliminating Master Leasing Plans. Former President Barack Obama’s administration created these plans to help better protect fragile areas near national parks and monuments with archaeological and cultural artifacts, as well as important fishing and hunting grounds, using a collaborative process that welcomes public input. The goal was to reduce conflict among stakeholders.

The Trump administration is a fan, however, of conflict. Apparently, they found these plans to create “duplicative layers” of National Environmental Policy Act review. So they axed it. No new plans will happen, and any ongoing are over. That’s just one piece of this memo.


The Bureau of Land Management is also placing a 60-day deadline on lease sales—even if someone is disputing a parcel of land, the state office better figure it out within 60 days of the bidder paying for the land. And if someone’s got a problem with a lease, the federal government is giving them 10 days to protest it. That’s it, not even a full two weeks. Plus, state offices “may provide for public participation” in the review process, so states can decide whether they want to hear from the public—for development on public lands.

None of this memo impacts tribal Indian lands, as it makes clear. However, lands don’t need to be formal “Indian lands” to affect tribal nations. The Bears Ears debate is the perfect example. Though the land is federally managed and belongs to the greater U.S. public, the land carries a special cultural significance to the tribes whose artifacts lay scattered and hidden among its red rocks. This land was once theirs, but it was stolen and is now at risk.

The administration also went ahead and trolled renewable energy enthusiasts Thursday by announcing new potential solar and wind farm development in a fragile California desert after key stakeholders just spent years coming up with a balanced approach to energy development and ecosystem management.