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You Can Stake A Claim On Public Land For $1.50 Per Acre. Who's Buying?46:32
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In this April 24, 2015 file photo, pump jacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. (Charlie Riedel, File/AP)
In this April 24, 2015 file photo, pump jacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. (Charlie Riedel, File/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

America’s public lands are being leased for oil and gas speculation for less than a cup of coffee per acre. We look at the push and the pushback.


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Guests

Carl Segerstrom, contributing editor at High County News. (@Carlschirps)

Amy Myers Jaffe, David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment, and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. Co-chair of the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy's Women in Energy Steering Committee. Co-author of "Oil, Dollars, Debt and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold." (@AmyJaffeenergy)

From The Reading List

New York Times: "Opinion: Your Public Lands Are Killing You" — "Out in the way beyond, the open land on the far side of the Mueller report and cable news obsessives, is a vast kingdom now being used to hasten the demise of the planet.

"You may know this area, more than 500 million acres of empty vales and thick forests, high plains and diamond-cut peaks, as something you saw on a screen saver, or marked as a distant bucket list destination. It’s your American public land endowment, your birthright at citizenship.

"What you may not know is that while you were sleeping through the white noise from the White House, your public servants were put under the control of the oil and gas industry. They have been busy giving away drilling rights on your land for next to nothing. More precisely — per acre, for even less than the cost of a Bacon McDouble, which of course you should eat only in moderation.

"And they’re doing this in the face of considerable evidence that the rush into industrial plunder of these lands is a huge source of planet-convulsing carbon emissions."

Grist: "How did public land drilling rights become cheaper than a cup of coffee?" — "Last December, a London-based energy company secured drilling rights to 67,000 acres in Montana for the paltry sum of $1.50 per acre – a steal compared to the $100 per acre average price tag for land leased under the final four years of the Obama administration, according to The New York Times.

"This wasn’t some end-of-the-year clearance sale. While you might think public lands would be more safeguarded than most from oil and gas development, the Trump administration has actually made it dangerously affordable to lease drilling rights. That’s especially concerning in light of a new federal report that found drilling on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

"'We clearly have a system that is incentivizing speculation,' said Jeremy Nichols, the Climate and Energy Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. He said the low lease prices allowed companies to take advantage of public lands and make money off the backs of taxpayers. 'I call it a liquidation. When you’re selling public lands for $1.50 an acre, you are liquidating.' "

Colorado Public Radio: "Interior Head Orders Officials Consider Recreation Access When Selling Public Land" — "Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt ordered federal land managers on Thursday to give greater priority to access for hunting, fishing and other kinds of recreation when the government considers selling or trading public land.

"The secretarial order comes amid longstanding complaints that millions of acres of state and federal land in the American West can be reached only by traveling across private property or small slivers of public land.

"Bernhardt's order requires the Bureau of Land Management to come up with alternatives to access routes that could be lost during land sales or exchanges. It also helps prevent land from being selected in the first place for potential sale.

"The move could help boost Bernhardt's conservation credentials ahead of a Senate confirmation hearing March 28, in which Democrats are likely to highlight his past work as an energy industry lobbyist."

Colorado Public Radio: "Colorado Coal Jobs Saw A Modest Uptick In 2018" — "After years of losses, Colorado coal jobs stabilized in 2018. The industry saw 4 percent job growth, a total of 1,304 jobs across the state.

"'We’ve had a tough time since the peak of coal production in 2004,' said Colorado Mining Association President Stan Dempsey. 'The mood is optimistic, but yet realistic.'

"Colorado has six active coal mines that supply fuel to a range of industrial activities that include coal-fired power plants to concrete production. Of 2018’s job gains, West Elk Mine near Paonia dominated. The mine exports coal to other states and recently obtained approval from the Trump administration to expand."

New York Times: "Energy Speculators Jump on Chance to Lease Public Land at Bargain Rates" — "Robert B. Price, the chief executive of a London-based oil and gas company, came up with a creative tactic to grab bargain drilling rights to a sprawling piece of federal land here in eastern Montana — each acre for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

"He first asked the Interior Department to auction off rights to as much as 200,000 acres in Montana through a process that allows energy companies to identify the public land they would like to develop. But when the auction took place last December, Mr. Price sat on the sidelines and waited for the clock to run out — betting no one else would bid.

"His gamble worked. With no other bidders showing interest, the government allowed him to secure drilling rights on nearly 67,000 acres east of Miles City in a special noncompetitive sale the very next day. His cost: just $1.50 an acre a year in rent, compared with the more than $100-an-acre average paid by bidders, on top of rent, in competitive auctions in Montana in the final four years of the Obama administration."

Stefano Kotsonis produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on April 3, 2019.

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