BLM Lease Sales

 

On June 29, 2023, BLM’s Eastern States Office finally held its first lease sale since December of 2020.

The path to that lease sale took many twists and turns. In 2021, the Interior Department, acting in response to a preliminary injunction by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana relating to the “pause” on new leasing that had been imposed by President Biden’s executive order of January 27, 2021 (see the Recent Developments page of this website), identified limited numbers of parcels that were to be considered for leasing in the first quarter of 2022, and published environmental assessments for certain of those parcels.  By the time that the environmental assessments were completed, however, 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 (including all of the Eastern States parcels that were then in contention).  The surviving parcels (in BLM’s Colorado, Montana-Dakotas, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming State Offices) were scheduled for lease sales in June of 2022.  Thereafter, no additional lease sales were held by BLM, anywhere, for the third or fourth quarters of 2022, or for the first quarter of 2023.

In the Eastern States, tracts in three areas initially had been under consideration for a second-quarter 2022 sale: split-estate lands (i.e., federal minerals under private surface) 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 in October 2021 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.” (There still has been no report of progress in the “ongoing discussion” between BLM and the Forest Service.) And in April 2022, BLM’s Eastern States Office issued a decision not to offer the remaining Alabama tract at that time, stating, as a principal justification, that the lands were not sufficiently near to existing development.

Between November 2022 and January 2023, several BLM State Offices — Eastern States, as well as Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Montana-Dakotas — published notices of scoping periods for parcels that were under consideration to be offered in lease sales in the second and third quarters of 2023.  Evaluations of each of these parcels then followed, under the criteria established by new BLM Instruction Memorandum 2023-007 (see the Recent Developments page).

In the Eastern States area, all of the parcels that were evaluated were split-estate tracts, including one parcel in Kalamazoo County, Michigan; two parcels in Caddo Parish and one in Bossier Parish, Louisiana; and one parcel in Smith County and two in Greene County, Mississippi. Environmental assessments for the Michigan and Louisiana parcels were then published, in March.  The Mississippi parcels, though, were deferred from further consideration for the current sale, under the criteria in IM 2023-007, for the reason that there was no nearby oil and gas development.

A sale notice for the June 29 lease sale, including the Michigan and Louisiana parcels, was published on May 15.  In the lease sale, high bids were received of $3501/acre for the parcel in Bossier Parish, and $2001/acre and $251/acre for the Caddo Parish tracts, in Louisiana; while the Michigan parcel went for $14/acre (slightly above the newly-increased $10/acre minimum).

 

No further Eastern States sales were held in the last two quarters of 2023.  (Fourth-quarter sales were held by the Montana-Dakotas, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming offices).  On January 26, 2024, though, BLM’s Eastern States Office published a notice of a lease sale for the first quarter of this year, to be held on March 26.  (First-quarter 2024 sales are scheduled by Montana-Dakotas and Wyoming as well; while a planned first-quarter Nevada sale has been postponed.) The tracts that are included in the Eastern States sale are the three split-estate Mississippi tracts that were deferred from the June 2023 sale.  A 30-day protest period for the Eastern States sale concluded on February 26.