“Keep It In The Ground” Activists Going All Out to Block Federal Leasing

“Keep It In the Ground” activist groups have added a self-proclaimed “sophisticated” effort to their misinformation campaign to stop oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands.

The groups have bolstered their total war approach by filing formal protests to nearly every lease application across the country in hopes of overwhelming the Bureau of Land Management in paperwork.

As Reuters reports:

“The protests slow down leasing but are also a prerequisite for lawsuits seeking to force the administration to consider global warming in its drilling policy.”

“‘We’ve already seen a surge in litigation over oil and gas leasing. There is sure to be more,’ said Jeremy Nichols, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, among the leading groups filing protests. ‘We are in the process of developing the next round.’”

“The strategy has delayed processing times and costs for public-lands leasing, according to the Department of Interiors U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), because the government can’t lease acreage before responding to what are often long-winded arguments asserting threats to the climate and wildlife.”

The strategy isn’t an unorganized, haphazard effort, but rather a vast, coordinated strategy:

“‘We’re not just scribbling down a note and sending it off to the BLM,’ said Nichols of WildEarth. ‘There’s very sophisticated opposition.’”

And it’s not new. The tactic follows the playbook of groups like the Center for Biological Diversity that use protests and lawsuits to slow responsible oil and natural gas development in areas such as the Wayne National Forest in Ohio.

The Real Story is the Spike in Protests

The groups have turned up the volume on their claims that the Trump Administration has greatly increased leasing on public lands, despite the fact that less than 10 percent of federal lands in western mountain states have been leased for oil and gas development. The only real growth is the massive spike in protests since the end of the Obama Administration:

“Over the past three years, more than 90 percent of the nearly 4,000 land parcels offered by the government to drillers in the contiguous United States have drawn formal protests, compared to less than half prior to 2015, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Interior.”

(Graphic via Reuters)

This week, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt spoke about the uptick in protests:

“You’ll see a trend line of protests that were 20 percent, then they went to 30, then they went to 35, then they went to 37. And then [former Interior Secretary] Ken Salazar came in and said, ‘they’re going to go down.’ And when [Interior Secretary Sally] Jewell left, they were actually higher than when [former President George W.] Bush left. And now they’re kind of off-the-chart.”

Despite the protests, the facts tell the real story. The oil and natural gas industry generated a record $1.1 billion in revenue from federal leasing in 2018 without expanding acreage. The previous record was set in 2008, when BLM leased more than 2.6 million acres for oil and gas production and grossed approximately $408 million in revenue. Last year BLM leased fewer than 1.5 million acres.

Protest Strategy Only Hurts the Economy and Taxpayers

The uptick in protests is having serious consequences for states that rely on federal leasing to fund their budgets, in several cases delaying federal money owed to states like New Mexico.

WildEarth Guardians has used an all-out effort to block new development in New Mexico as Reuters reports:

“WildEarth filed another lawsuit last week seeking to cancel 210 oil and gas leases issued in 2017 and 2018 on more than 68,000 acres in New Mexico’s Great Carlsbad region based on their impacts to climate, air quality and water resources.”

Oil and gas  contributes a third of all revenue going into New Mexico’s general fund, according to a report from the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. In 2018 alone, New Mexico generated $852 million in revenue to help fund schools, universities, hospitals, and other public institutions.

These increased lease protests are only hurting the economy by blocking development and cutting off money to vital public priorities like education and health care. Delays of payments as large as $70 million exacerbated fiscal crises in states like New Mexico.

Emissions Continue to Decline

The protests also ignore that emissions continue to decline thanks to improved technology and innovation. A recent Energy In Depth analysis found that U.S. methane emissions fell by 24 percent from 2011 to 2017 even while the country’s oil and natural gas production rose by 65 and 19 percent respectively.

In the Permian Basin – located in New Mexico and Texas – the advancements have been particularly significant: Annual methane emissions fell from 4.8 million metric tons (MMT) to 4.6 MMT from 2011 to 2017. Simultaneously, combined oil and natural gas annual production jumped from 638.9 million barrels of oil equivalent (Boe) to 1.4 billion Boe. The result was a 57 percent reduction in methane emissions per unit of oil and natural gas produced.


“Keep It In The Ground” activist have gone for broke with their latest protest strategy, based on false narratives and ignoring the reality on the ground. There is no increase in leased acreage and emissions continue to fall. But their antics have real-life consequences for workers, students, family seeking medical care and others who depend on robust revenue streams from oil and natural gas production.

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