The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) failure to keep detailed records about protests against its federal land lease sales to energy companies makes it impossible to determine how often the protests affected the eventual outcome, a government watchdog says.
A review of BLM’s oil and natural gas lease sales in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in 2007-09 found that nearly three-quarters of the parcels were protested by environmental and hunting groups, state and local governments, businesses and private individuals, the Government Accountability Office said. Reasons for the protests included concerns over wildlife habitat, air or water quality, and the loss of recreational or farm land uses.
“We could not measure the extent to which protests affected BLM’s lease sale decisions because of limited information BLM maintains on protests. Not only were protest data incomplete, but BLM did not consistently document the reasons for its deferrals or the extent to which it found protests to have merit,” the GAO said. The lack of information also meant the watchdog could not tell if the BLM modified the acreage or terms of a land parcel because of a protest.
In the states reviewed, about 1 million acres, or 15 percent, of the 6.9 million acres of land included in lease sale notices were deferred or postponed, the GAO said, adding that it could not pinpoint how much of that land had been protested. The watchdog urged the BLM to do a better job of systematically documenting lease sale protests, and to make leasing information more transparent to the public by explaining why the agency included or left out particular land parcels in a sale.
Fast Fact: Federal lands accounted for 5.8 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 12.8 percent of natural gas production in fiscal 2009. Winning bidders for a BLM lease must also pay royalties on any oil or gas eventually produced from the leased land.
Other new reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):
- In evaluating new drug applications, FDA restricts use of evidence from “non-inferiority trials” (GAO)
- Sterling Life Insurance Co. did not adequately train employees or monitor contractors to prevent Medicare Part D program waste and fraud (OIG)
- Contracts Army awarded for $73 million in energy-efficiency research failed to include some required language about stimulus law funding (OIG)
- State Dept. could save money by classifying Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian for training purposes as dialects of a single language — Serbo-Croatian (OIG)
- U.S. embassies had recurring incidents of “verbal abuse along with cultural insensitivity” by American personnel, directed at foreign national employees (OIG)
- Interior Dept. programs to mitigate fire damage in wild areas near cities could be more effectively managed (OIG)
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