Climate + Energy

Our Public Lands Are Being Privatized And Zinke Wants to Give Away More

15782858893_6382bf2a5e_oWhile President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is bemoaning “obstacles” to development on American public lands, there doesn’t seem to be any barriers at all to this Administration’s ability to hand over our public lands for fracking.

This month alone, the Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 128,482 acres of public lands across the nation, but mostly in the western U.S.  This included 63,268 acres in Colorado, 160 acres in Arkansas, 15,611 acres in Montana, 5,760 acres in Nevada, 4,230 acres in New Mexico, 7,478 acres in Utah, and just last week, 31,975 acres in Wyoming.

Incredibly, these sales come as industry isn’t even producing oil and gas on most of the public lands its already acquired over the years.  Only 46% are producing anything at all.

Worse, these giveaways come as companies seem to have little to no interest at all in buying more public lands for fracking.

In Nevada, the Bureau of Land Management tried to sell nearly 200,000 acres for fracking.  Only three bidders showed up and ultimately, only 5,760 acres were sold, less than 2% of what was on the auction block.

Overall, only 30% of all public lands the Bureau of Land Management tried to sell to the oil and gas industry this month actually sold.

Oh, and this is despite the fact that industry can acquire public lands for fracking for as low as $2.00 per acre.  Even at that ridiculously low price (which is less than a Starbucks coffee or a pack of gum), industry still did not want to bid on 70% of the public lands up for auction this month.

Bureau of Land Management Oil and Gas Sale Statistics for June 2017

BLM State Office Parcels Offered for Sale Parcels Sold Acres Offered for Sale Acres Sold
Colorado 86 70 100,815 63,268
Eastern States 2 2 160 160
Montana 156 49 69,056 15,611
Nevada 106 3 195,693 5,760
New Mexico 18 17 4,376 4,230
Utah 20 8 23,733 7,478
Wyoming 26 26 31,975 31,975
TOTALS 414 175 425,808 128,482

The bottomline is that Secretary Zinke’s call for removing “obstacles” to development on public lands isn’t about helping an ailing industry or creating jobs or generating wealth.  There are no obstacles.  The oil and gas industry can’t even develop what it has right now and barely seems to want more public lands for fracking.

What Zinke really means is that he wants to remove “obstacles” to privatizing our public lands.  How else can you explain his claim that that charging companies for the privilege of developing public lands is “un-American”?

Let me put this plainly: Our Secretary of the Interior believes the federal government should not ask companies to pay Americans to develop our public lands.

This is beyond ridiculous.  It’s like accusing a landlord of being “un-American” for charging rent.  Or accusing a convenience store owner of being “un-American” for charging for ice cream.  Or accusing an airline of being “un-American” for charging for flights.

As bizarre as it sounds, it’s exactly what he’s saying.  And that’s nothing short of an admission that Zinke’s real vision is a wholesale giveaway of our public lands to private industry.

While the climate consequences of handing over our public lands to the oil and gas and coal industries would be disastrous, there’s so much more at stake.  Taxpayer would lose big, recreationists stand to lose access, and our longstanding American legacy of public lands would fall by the wayside.

There’s no denying that Secretary Zinke’s goal is to privative our public lands.  He’s already trying his damnedest to do so by auctioning off our lands for fracking.  And by eliminating what he claims are “obstacles” to development, he’ll succeed in effectively handing over our lands to all manner of private industries.

WildEarth Guardians is pushing back.  Just last week, we filed an appeal challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to auction off 118,000 acres of public lands in Wyoming for fracking and challenged the agency’s approval of 5,750 new oil and gas wells in the Uinta Basin of northeastern Utah.

But Zinke’s statements should be a call for all individuals and organizations who care about public lands to rise up and resist.  For an Interior Secretary to suggest that we should give the fossil fuel industry, or any industry for that matter, a free pass to exploit our public lands is beyond the pale.  It needs to be stopped.

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