A Montanan, Tracy Stone-Manning of Missoula has been nominated by President Biden to be Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The appointment has stirred concern by the Montana Petroleum Association (MPA) which points to Stone-Manning’s recent testimony before a natural resources committee about the way the BLM manages public lands regarding oil and gas leasing.

She erroneously told the committee that BLM-managed lands leased for oil and gas development, force the Interior Department to manage those lands predominantly for oil and gas development rather than addressing the needs of people and wildlife, claims Alan Olson, Executive Director of the MPA, in a recent release.

Only 3.7% of the 700 million acres of BLM managed Federal minerals are under lease. Lands under active production amounted to only 1.8% at the end of FY 2018. Even the lands that are under lease are not managed predominantly for oil and gas development in Montana, stated Olson. As a matter of fact, these lands are still open for recreation as well as grazing and timber unless those activities too are tied up in litigation. As for wildlife issues, many Federal oil and gas leases contain stipulations to accommodate wildlife from seasonal use restrictions to going as far as to prohibit surface occupancy. So, there is management outside and over the mineral lease itself for recreation and wildlife, said Olson.

Stone-Manning is Senior Advisor for Conservation Policy and the National Wildlife Federation. She has been described as a “longtime environmental advocate and Democratic aide”, having served as chief of staff for former Gov. Steve Bullock and as an aide to Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. She was also formerly a  spokesperson for the environmental group Earth First.

The BLM functions within the Interior Department and has jurisdiction over about a quarter-billion acres and one-third of the nation’s underground minerals, including oil, natural gas and coal reserves. The agency regulates drilling, mining, grazing and other activities.

In her testimony, Stone-Manning lamented that there are already 7,600 unused drilling permits issued, why lease more federal minerals? Olson responded, “Many of those permits are sitting in suspension. Some are suspended due to litigation by organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups. Other permits are sitting due to the current economics of the industry. But at the end of the day those permits still brought in over $82 million in just permit fees not counting lease bonus fees and annual rental payments. In contrast, BLM permit fees are 72 to 400 times the cost of a comparable State of Montana permit for the same depth of well on State or private minerals.”

Prior to the COVID pandemic, in 2018 BLM lease sales generated over $1.1 billion in revenue from oil and gas lease bonus bids, first-year rental fees, and administrative fees while costing the BLM about $165 million appropriated from Congress in FY 2018 for a return of 85%. In 2020 the royalty payments to the Federal Government brought in $4.6 billion additionally over leasing and permitting revenue. Annual revenues provided to the U.S. Treasury through Federal mineral development is second only to that provided by the Internal Revenue Service, pointed out Olson.

Lands managed by the BLM are for the most part, to be managed for multiple use. Multiple use means just that, multiple, many, numerous, various, uses. Not just for one segment of the population but within reason, all uses. Oil and gas leases on less than 4% of the Federal mineral estate do not prevent other uses for the same lands. We are hoping Ms. Stone-Manning will see the positive impacts from the BLM’s minerals management.


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