The development of oil and natural gas resources on federal lands contributes to domestic energy production but also results in concerns over potential impacts on those lands. Numerous public protests about oil and gas lease sales have been filed with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages these federal resources. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which BLM maintains and makes publicly available information related to protests, (2) the extent to which parcels were protested and the nature of protests, and (3) the effects of protests on BLM's lease sale decisions and on oil and gas development activities. To address these questions, GAO examined laws, regulations, and guidance; BLM's agencywide lease record-keeping system; lease sale records for the 53 lease sales held in the four BLM state offices of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming during fiscal years 2007-2009; and protest data from a random sample of 12 of the 53 lease sales. GAO also interviewed BLM officials and industry and protester groups.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||1. To improve the efficiency and transparency of BLM's process with regard to protests of its lease sale decisions and to strengthen how BLM carries out its responsibilities under the Mineral Leasing Act, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of BLM to revisit the agency's use of the module for tracking protest information and, in so doing, determine and implement an approach for collecting protest information agencywide that is complete, consistent, and available to the public.|
|Department of the Interior||2. To improve the efficiency and transparency of BLM's process with regard to protests of its lease sale decisions and to strengthen how BLM carries out its responsibilities under the Mineral Leasing Act, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of BLM, in implementing the Secretary of the Interior's leasing policy reform issued in May 2010, to take steps to improve (1) the transparency of leasing information provided to the public, including information to explain the basis of agency decisions to include or exclude particular parcels in a lease sale and, to the extent feasible, documentation of the role, if any, that protests played in final lease decisions, and (2) the timeliness of lease issuance, without compromising the thoroughness of review.|