BLM Lease Sales

 

As discussed on the Recent Developments page of this website, no further lease sales were expected to be held by BLM unless and until the Interior Department lifted the “pause” on new leasing that was imposed by President Biden’s executive order of January 27, 2021. But in a preliminary injunction on June 15, 2021, in State of Louisiana v. Biden, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana directed the Interior Department to do exactly that; and although the U.S. filed an appeal from that decision, the Department stated that it would comply with the court’s directive and resume leasing in the meantime. BLM, pursuant to that professed intent, identified limited numbers of parcels that were to be considered for leasing in the first quarter of this year, and published environmental assessments for certain of those parcels.  But by the time that the environmental assessments were completed, not only was it too late for any first-quarter lease sales, but BLM discovered reasons to eliminate about 80% of the prospective parcels nationwide from further consideration, with the surviving parcels being scheduled — contingent on the outcome of protests that were filed — for lease sales in June of this year.  The District Court’s preliminary injunction has now been vacated by the Court of Appeals; but the District Court, immediately afterward, issued a permanent injunction (although limited to lease sales in the states that were parties to that case) against the leasing “pause.”  BLM, in the meantime, has failed to schedule any lease sales for the third quarter of the year.

In the case of the Eastern States in particular, BLM wound up eliminating 100% of the parcels that were under consideration for a second-quarter sale.  Tracts in three areas previously had been identified for possible inclusion in a lease sale in early 2022: split-estate lands in Covington County, Alabama; lands in the DeSoto National Forest in Wayne and Jones Counties, Mississippi; and lands in the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, Mississippi.  Following the conclusion of the scoping period for these parcels, BLM published an environmental assessment on October 29 only for the split-estate lands in Alabama, while cancelling further consideration of any of the National Forest lands in Mississippi “due to ongoing discussion between the two agencies [BLM and the Forest Service] regarding air quality analysis as required under NEPA” (even though such an analysis had been conducted previously).  And on April 19, 2022, BLM’s Eastern States Office issued a decision not to offer the remaining Alabama tract at this time, stating, as a principal justification (which somehow required a 100+ page environmental assessment), that the lands were not sufficiently near to existing development.

The last competitive lease sale by BLM’s Eastern States Office, prior to the “pause,” was held online on December 17, 2020. Fifteen parcels were offered in that sale, covering split-estate lands in Arkansas and Mississippi, along with one tract in Mississippi’s Homochitto National Forest. Only five of the parcels received bids, however; and of those, only one, in Jones County, Mississippi, went for more than the $2 per acre minimum.

In the Eastern States sale before that, on September 24, 2020, fifteen parcels were offered, including split-estate lands in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, and Mississippi, and an additional Mississippi tract in the Homochitto National Forest. All of the parcels were sold, including high bids of $101 per acre for one of the Alabama tracts (in Covington County); $201 and $759 per acre for the two Louisiana tracts (in Caddo Parish); $76 per acre for one of the Mississippi split-estate tracts (in Lamar County); and $201 per acre for the Homochitto National Forest tract (in Franklin County).

The preceding sale (since the June lease sale was cancelled due to the pandemic) was held on March 19, 2020. Only three parcels were offered in that sale, covering lands in the Bienville and Homochitto National Forests in Mississippi. One of the Homochitto tracts, in Franklin County, received a bid of $268 per acre, with the other tracts going for smaller amounts. That sale originally was to have also included thirteen parcels in the Wayne National Forest in Ohio – an area in which there has been high interest; but those parcels were all pulled just before the sale, as a result of the U.S. District Court decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Forest Service, finding deficiencies in the environmental assessment on which the offering of lands in the Wayne National Forest was based. For more on that decision, see the Court Opinions page of this website.