Grijalva: GAO Finds Private Companies Locking Up Millions of Acres of Public Lands by Sitting on Oil and Gas Leases, Some Decades Old

Washington, D.C. – A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that oil and gas companies are locking up millions of acres of public lands, primarily across the Western United States, by holding onto mineral leases where no oil or gas are being extracted and no exploration is taking place. Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), one of the report’s requesters, said today that the leases – some of which are decades old – are undeniable evidence that fossil fuel companies are getting an extremely sweet deal from taxpayers and that Republican demands for weaker standards and inadequate permitting times are completely inappropriate.

The full report – which was also requested by Reps. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) – is available at http://bit.ly/2K2txoN. The report comes just one day ahead of a Committee vote on four Republican bills that create new carve-outs for oil and gas drillers or establish new barriers to public scrutiny of industry activity.

States with the greatest numbers of idle leases – which are officially referred to as “suspended leases” – include Utah, which has slightly more than 1 million acres of public land under suspended leases; Montana, which has more than 992,000 acres under suspended leases; and Wyoming, which has just short of 569,000 acres under suspended leases. Republican lawmakers from those states and elsewhere have been largely silent on the issue of suspended leases, which collect no rents for taxpayers even though companies leasing the properties are doing nothing with them.

Suspensions receive little or no oversight once granted, as The Wilderness Society pointed out in a 2015 report on the issue and GAO confirms in today’s report. Once a suspension is granted, a company can often sit on a lease for years with little meaningful public input; GAO found one lease that had been suspended for 82 years. Unlike almost all other federal lands, lands under lease are not managed for multiple use.

“Years of Republican giveaways have created a fossil fuel industry that expects more taxpayer subsidies and fewer regulations every year,” Grijalva said today. “Too many oil and gas companies lease public lands for a pittance, do nothing with them for years at a time and then cry about how unfairly they’re being treated. We can’t even calculate how much economic activity we’ve lost out on thanks to this epidemic. The last thing the industry needs is permitting with no strings attached, but that’s exactly what Republicans are promising them.”

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