Oil and Gas Leasing on Public Land

Public lands in southwest Montana are unnecessarily at risk from reckless oil and gas development proposals.

In 2018 and 2019, the federal BLM proposed lease sales for more than 10,000 acres of land adjacent to and upstream of the Big Hole and Beaverhead Rivers.  These lease locations are, by BLM’s own record, poor investments offering limited oil or gas reserves that could only be developed through polluting practice of fracking.  Time and again examples across the nation show that fracking results in a host of negative impacts for landscapes, public health, and water quality.

Under our nation’s antiquated federal mineral leasing program, every three months the BLM uses its discretion to auction off mineral parcels to industry for oil and gas development for pennies on the dollar. Leases for these public lands are noncompetitive, generate small revenue, tie up land, and don’t benefit taxpayers but rather out-of-state corporations, all while seriously degrading the landscape.

It’s well known that places in southwest Montana proposed for oil and gas leasing, like the Big Hole River, are plagued by low flows and river closures each year, and keynote species like the arctic grayling and cutthroat trout are hanging by a thread.  Oil and gas fracking not only threaten direct pollution impacts from these industrial practices, but would also require huge daily quantities of water on such a scale as to exacerbate water scarcity challenges on the Big Hole.

Simply put, oil and gas development and federal mineral leasing doesn’t belong in special, wild places of southwest Montana.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper has been a local leader raising the alarm, exposing the consequences of allowing quarterly lease sales of mineral deposits on public lands, and rallying the public to push back against these short-sighted proposals.  We successfully achieved temporary deferrals of lease sales on Big Hole and Beaverhead parcels in 2018 and again in 2019, and we are continuing to work toward permanent withdrawal of these special places from the federal minerals leasing program.  Southwest Montana’s true wealth lies in clean and healthy landscapes and waterways, not oil and gas development.

Photo Credit: Chris Boyer