Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 25, 2016

Contact: Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894, 

BLM Prepares for First Online Fossil Fuel Auction Since 'Keep It in the Ground'
Movement Sparked Public Protests

September Internet Lease Sale in Ky., Miss. Is Designed to Curb Protests, Benefit Big Oil, Gas

WASHINGTON— On Sept. 20 the Bureau of Land Management plans to conduct its first online auction of oil and gas leases for 4,400 acres of public lands in Kentucky and Mississippi, marking a radical departure from the Bureau’s longstanding practice of having fossil fuel companies appear at a physical address to bid on these leases.

But the agency’s plan to hold an online-only auction will not slow the rising “Keep It in the Ground” movement, according to Randi Spivak of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This move to online auctions is designed to get around the public process and make it easier for the fossil fuel industry to exploit and profit from America’s shared public lands,” said Spivak. “This tactic will not silence thousands of Americans who want to voice their frustration with the Obama administration’s contradictory climate policies.”

This will be the first onshore public fossil fuel auction to be held online since people impacted by fossil fuel development, communities dealing with climate disruption and citizens concerned with the fate of public lands and waters began publicly rallying at these in-person auctions of our public lands. BLM previously conducted a trial online auction in 2010.

“The ‘Keep It in the Ground’ movement will continue to shine a bright light on the contradiction between the administration’s stated goal of fighting climate change and its apparent commitment, at the very same time, to selling off fossil fuels on our public lands and locking us into decades of fossil fuel dependence,” Spivak said. “These public protest rallies have demonstrated strong opposition to the too-cozy practice of oil and gas companies bidding on federal fossil fuels.” 

Groups earlier filed an administrative protest challenging the auction of 184 acres in and around Sloughs Wildlife Management Area in Kentucky and more than 4,200 acres in the Homochitto and Bienville national forests in Mississippi for oil and gas fracking.

The administrative protest and public rallies are part of a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to expand his climate legacy by halting new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution in the ground. “Keep It in the Ground” public rallies opposed to auctioning off new federal fossil fuel leases have been growing across the country — in Alaska, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Nevada — and have caused some auctions to be canceled or postponed. 

Recently the House Committee on Natural Resources passed a bill that would authorize lease sales for offshore oil and gas drilling to be held online rather than in person, requiring a first online auction in the Gulf of Mexico.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.

Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to President Obama. 

Download Grounded: The Presidents Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet. 

Download Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits, a report about the corporations that are profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

Download the Center for Biological Diversity’s legal petition with 264 other groups calling for a halt to all new onshore fossil fuel leasing.

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