PROMO Energy - Oil Pump Rig - iStock - Karina Movsesyan

Groups file protests to stop oil and gas leases on public lands

© iStock - Karina Movsesyan
Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) Fifteen conservation groups from Wyoming and across the nation have filed administrative protests challenging the Biden administration's plans to resume oil and gas leasing on public lands as early as June. 

They're calling for the president to end new leasing to protect communities, water and wildlife. Dan Ritzman - lands, water, and wildlife campaign director for the Sierra Club - said the move is critical for the administration to meet its own climate goals.

"One of the biggest single sources of greenhouse gases across the country is fossil-fuel leasing on our public lands," said Ritzman. "So to address climate change, we need to keep those fossil fuels in the ground, keep them from being burned."

Lease sales set for June include 144,000 acres across eight western states, with a majority of acres in Wyoming. Oil companies repeatedly have claimed that opening up more public lands for drilling can ease pressure on international supplies and lower gas prices.

The protests call for a halt to oil and gas leasing, and a nationwide plan to align federal fossil-fuel management with the goal of avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

Ritzman said new leases on public lands won't lower prices at the pump, in part because it takes years for oil companies to develop leases. He added that companies already have plenty of options for drilling.

"The oil and gas industry is currently sitting on millions of acres that they have yet to develop," said Ritzman. "They are making those claims not to help the general public with gas prices but to get their hands on more of these public lands."

The new leases come on the heels of record industry profits. Shell Oil brought in more than $9 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2022, according to a Guardian report - nearly triple its profits during the same period last year. 

Ritzman said lands owned by all Americans have been monopolized by the oil and gas industry for far too long. He said it's time for public lands to be part of the climate solution, not the problem.