Congressman Lowenthal, Colleagues, Call On DOI To Ensure No Federal Lands Oil And Gas Leases Go To Unqualified Individuals Or Foreign Nationals

December 10, 2020
Press Release

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), today, joined with 15 House colleagues in calling on the Department of Interior (DOI) to delay new oil and gas lease sales to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not grant oil and gas leases on federal lands to entities unable to hold them, including land speculators and foreign nationals.

In a letter to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt, the Members state, “We are writing in regard to recent troubling lease sales by BLM to individuals with no apparent previous experience or history in energy development. We have been deeply concerned that the DOI has prioritized oil and gas lease sales in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time when prices and demand have been at record lows. However, these concerns are heightened in light of recent reports that nearly half of the leases sold at recent BLM lease sales have been acquired by individuals who may be unqualified oil and gas speculators.”

According to BLM records, beginning in August 2020, over 130 federal oil, gas, and geothermal leases across twelve states have been successfully bid and purchased by individuals in their own name. Several aspects of these recent activities are troubling and potentially unlawful.

The Members point out that there is no prior record of these individuals, or a corporation they may be affiliated with, ever purchasing, owning, or operating a federal oil and gas lease. This runs counter to previous BLM practice of not leasing to individuals who were unwilling or unable to develop leased tracts. At least one of these individuals has publicly acknowledged that she has “no experience drilling for oil, isn’t working with partners and isn’t yet sure she can ever develop the leases.”

Further, there are indications that some of these individuals who were awarded leases may be foreign nationals. The Mineral Leasing Act (MLA) disqualifies non-U.S. citizens from owning federal oil, gas, and geothermal leases in their own name.

The Members point out that, “It appears that the DOI’s current process is not properly designed to identify and deter potentially unlawful or unqualified bids on federal oil and gas leasing. The DOI must not move forward with future oil and gas lease sales unless it can guarantee that the entities and individuals successfully acquiring federal oil, gas, and geothermal leases are not speculators and are lawfully eligible to do so under the MLA. These lands belong to the American people and they are entitled to a fair return on the sales and development of these lands. “

The letter concludes by demanding answers from DOI to a series of questions related to the Members’ concerns, including calling on DOI to fully explain their current leasing policies and bidder vetting process; how BLM ensures bidders have the ability to develop the lease property and are U.S. citizens; and, whether BLM will be conducting an audit of leases purchased by individual bidders. The Members are requesting responses from DOI no later than Friday, December 31, 2020.

In addition to Congressman Lowenthal, the letter was signed by Congress Members Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Kathy Castor (FL-14), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Gerald E. Connolly (VA-11), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Mike Levin (CA-49), A. Donald McEachin (VA-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Katie Porter (CA-45), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07).

Click here to read the full text of the letter.