Today, the Obama Administration delayed an oil and gas lease sale that was inconveniently scheduled for December 10, 2015, or right in the middle of the Paris COP climate talks. Activist groups, like 350.org, are claiming this as a “win” because the action was taken after pressure from those groups. Having an oil/gas lease sale occur during climate negotiations appears bad when the Obama administration is looking to achieve a big climate agreement.
The action was announced by the Bureau of Land Management Eastern States (BLM ES). The nine parcels that would have been offered in December included two parcels in Arkansas of 80 acres each; and seven parcels in Michigan totaling 427.01 acres. The document describing the sale has a lot of interesting details.
However, while the environmentalist groups are claiming victory it’s only to delay the auction. These parcels will still be auctioned, in March 2016, or well after the climate change talks.
350.org Policy Director Jason Kowalski issued the following statement on the win: “Keeping fossil fuels in the ground has quickly become the new standard for climate leadership. The Obama administration clearly recognized that it couldn’t present itself as a climate leader in Paris if it was peddling fossil fuels at home. The win against the Keystone XL pipeline has energized a ‘keep it in the ground’ movement across the United States and around the world. You’ll see many more protests like this over the year ahead–especially that we now have such clear evidence that they work. We’ll definitely be back in March to protest this auction if it indeed goes forward.”
According to a press release, several activist groups including 350.org had planned to stage a protest outside the auction. Hundreds of people had signed up to take part in the protest, with many willing to risk arrest to stop the auction from proceeding. Now they’ll have to delay their wish to be arrested until March.
Before I finish this off, it’s worth noting that the document describing the lease sale is an “interesting” read.
For example, under the terms of participating in the bidding process you must swear that you’ll be an honest participant, not place fraudulent bids, and that you have the “intention to acquire an oil and gas lease”.
A couple years ago, an activist walked into an oil and gas lease auction in Utah, registered to participate, and then started placing fraudulent bids. He managed to screw up that auction so much the BLM had to cancel the entire auction. He made himself a hero of the environmental movement, but ended up serving jail time. To do that he blatantly violated the terms of participating in the auction process, and had therefore committed a crime under 18 U.S.C. 1001 and 43 U.S.C. 1212. But the way I read these requirements, it would also be a crime to place a bid with the intention of NOT committing to an oil and gas lease but instead to preserve that land.
For example, a “land bank” organization might want to enter these auctions with the intent of buying up parcels to prevent oil and gas development through ownership. But the terms of the auction prevent such groups from doing so.
At the end of the sale document is a long list of stipulations, protecting endangered species, aquatic habitat, native american historical sites, and so on. These regulations are built into the requirements, but one wonders how stringently they’re carried out.
Statements from various environmental groups
“Keeping fossil fuels in the ground has quickly become the new standard for climate leadership. The Obama administration clearly recognized that it couldn’t present itself as a climate leader in Paris if it was peddling fossil fuels at home. The win against the Keystone XL pipeline has energized a ‘keep it in the ground’ movement across the United States and around the world. You’ll see many more protests like this over the year ahead–especially that we now have such clear evidence that they work.” – Jason Kowalski, Policy Director, 350.org
“The Obama Administration continues to lease public lands for catastrophic fossil fuel extraction, but the growing movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground has them reconsidering. Department of the Interior has become a captured agency, doing the bidding of massive corporations while ignoring public outcry and climate consequences, so it’s past time for there to be some accountability. If Department of the Interior won’t make the right decision on its own, President Obama needs to step in and direct Secretary Sally Jewell to stop these leases now.” – Kelly Mitchell, Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director
“If the administration can’t handle the optics of auctioning fossil fuels while negotiating a climate deal in Paris, it shouldn’t be auctioning off fossil fuels at all. It’s time to end the federal fossil fuel leasing program to align public lands management with our climate goals and keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution in the ground.” – Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity
“People powered opposition is working throughout the US, in Paris and around the world. Canceling the lease sale is great indicator of Obama’s commitment to tacking the climate change crisis, but there are still additional fossil fuel leases scheduled for 2016–including the Gulf of Mexico. Commitments made in Paris will be put to the test here in the US and in the most affected communities. Obama’s climate legacy will be determined in this next year. It’s time that the Obama Administration stop giving away public lands to Big Oil and Big Coal for pennies on the dollar.” – Ruth Breech, Senior Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network
“Activists across the country have shown again and again that they are willing to do what it takes to make sure President Obama starts living up to his climate commitments, and he seems to be listening. But simply delaying these auctions is not enough. It is long past time President Obama puts a stop to the fossil fuel giveaway on public lands once and for all.” – Elijah Zarlin, Climate Campaigns Director, CREDO
“Selling off public lands to the oil and gas industry amidst the Paris climate talks would have been the height of hypocrisy. We’re delighted to see this lease sale delayed but will be even more so once this fossil fuel leasing program is ended for good. Those of us working hard in Paris for a successful climate agreement need all the support we can get, and this victory for the keep it in the ground movement should put a little more wind in our sails.” – David Turnbull, Campaigns Director, Oil Change International
“In 2015, the Obama Administration held more than 20 onshore oil and gas auctions and sold the rights to drill and frack on more than one-half million acres of our nation’s precious public lands. To make matters worse, the climate impacts of this leasing program have never been studied in an environmental impact statement. If the President is truly serious about climate change, 2016 has to be different.” – Tim Ream, Climate and Energy Campaign Director, WildEarth Guardians
“Today’s decision marks a victory for the growing movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and hold President Obama to his promise to leave a safe climate future for present and future generations. After bold statements for urgent climate action in Alaska and Paris, President Obama cannot claim climate leadership as long as his administration continues to offer our public lands and waters for fossil fuel exploitation. The Obama administration should take note: we will be back in March and at every other lease sale until he recognizes that his climate legacy depends on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.” – Marissa Knodel, Climate Campaigner, Friends of the Earth
“The movement to ban fracking and keep fossil fuels in the ground continues to grow. Climate leaders don’t frack, and if President Obama wants to consider himself a leader in Paris, he needs to ban new fossil fuel leases on our public lands.” – Thomas Meyer, Food & Water Watch
“The punting of this auction away from the spotlight of the Paris climate negotiations is an acknowledgment by the Obama administration that their rhetoric on the urgency of tackling climate change is not aligned with their actions back home. We must continue to call out this hypocrisy until this and future administrations policies align with the scientific necessity to keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground.” – Evan Weber, Executive Director, U.S. Climate Plan
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