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Oil, Gas Developers "Hoard" Millions of Acres in Oregon, West

Most of the natural gas leases in Oregon are in Malheur County, part of the Vale BLM District. (Tara Martinak/BLM/Wikimedia Commons)
Most of the natural gas leases in Oregon are in Malheur County, part of the Vale BLM District. (Tara Martinak/BLM/Wikimedia Commons)
December 16, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - They're calling it "land hoarding" in a new report about unused oil and gas leases on public land.

Natural-gas developers have leased potential sites in Oregon through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). If they're not using the land, they can ask to "suspend" the lease, which keeps the acreage on hold and prevents anyone else from using the land.

The Wilderness Society has found more than 172,000 acres in Oregon with leases in limbo, some for years. Report coauthor Nada Culver, senior director for agency policy, said it has environmental and financial consequences.

"While those leases are in suspension, the operators are not required to pay rent," she said. "They don't pay royalties because they're not producing oil and gas. And of major concern to The Wilderness Society, the BLM won't manage the land for any other use."

Across the West, the report said, leases in suspension mean companies are sitting on 3.25 million acres that would have generated at least $80 million in lease payments. Oregon's geology makes most of its natural gas tough to get to and expensive to develop, but there are more than 100 leases, mostly in eastern Oregon.

The Wilderness Society is asking the Government Accountability Office to work with the BLM to recommend ways to revamp the lease suspension system.

Culver said there are legitimate reasons for putting a lease on suspension, such as waiting for a drilling permit or an environmental review, but they're supposed to be temporary and, in many her group examined, that wasn't the case.

"What we found is, unfortunately, there is no mechanism, really, for ensuring that those suspensions end," she said. "We, in our research, saw numerous situations where the reasons for the suspension ended, but the suspension didn't end - often for years and years and years, and some, still haven't ended."

Culver said lengthy suspensions end up preventing the BLM from fulfilling its mission of managing public lands for multiple use and keeping them in the best possible shape to benefit the public.

The report is online at wilderness.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR