BILLINGS – It’s been a few years since oil and gas leases on public land have drawn much of a crowd, which is why a peculiar sale this spring is attracting attention.
The Bureau of Land Management last week moved its upcoming oil and gas lease sale from the beige partitioned confines of its Billings office to the spacious trappings of the Northern Hotel, arguably Billings’ nicest venue. The move comes at a time when low oil prices have sapped nearly all leasing interest in fossil fuels from public lands.
BLM is making room for protesters, who have turned out at lease sales in other parts of the country. Roughly 40 protesters showed up for a BLM lease sale in Reno, Nevada, last month. It was a sale that drew no bidders and lasted 15 minutes, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The protest was similar to one in February in Utah, where a BLM sale drew 100 opponents and few bidders to a sale at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City. At that sale, according the Center for Biological Diversity, protesters cited the amount of greenhouse gasses that would be released if the federal land was developed.
In oil-rich New Orleans, 300 protesters derailed a lease sale of oil and gas tracts in the Gulf of Mexico.
“As you’ve seen across the country, there has been an increased interest, on the part of the public in oil and gas leases,” Nash said. “So the department has asked us to move these sales to locations where we could accommodate a greater number of the public if they choose to participate.”
The particular lease, Nash said, is not very big. There under 10 tracts, located in Sheridan, Richland and Garfield counties. In the extreme northeast portion of Montana, some of the larger leased areas a located beneath small lakes in the northern most U.S. Prairie Potholes Region. Prairie Potholes is known as the “duck factory” of the United States because of its population of water fowl.
Keeping those fossil fuels in the ground is crucial to minimizing climate change, he said.
“I think most people would be surprised to find out the 25 percent of the energy related emissions come from public lands,” Ream said. “We’re listening to the scientists about climate change and they’re telling us that up to 90 percent of the fossil fuels in the world will have to stay underground for us to have a good chance of staying under 2 degrees Celsius,” in global warming.
Wild Earth Guardians has a Montana presence and has planned protests at oil and gas lease sales in several Western states, including Wyoming, but hadn’t announced a Montana protest.
Ream said Wild Earth has pledged to protest every federal lease sale for the remainder of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The rallying cry for protesters is “keep it in the ground,” a phrase that’s become a pejorative in fossil fuel circles.