From New Yorker
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 awards the oil-and-gas industry chunks of federal land, even in such precious places as the desert around Moab, Utah.
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Even if you've never been to the vast red-rock desert country around Moab, Utah, you've been there -- its mesas and buttes, its towering arches, have been the backdrop for a thousand movies (and even more S.U.V. commercials). It's what we think about when we think about "the West," a truly mythic place. Some of it has been protected in national monuments and parks: Arches and Canyon-lands. But the fate of a large swath of it, though nominally belonging to the American people, may soon fall to a guy named Craig Larson.
Here's the story so far. Under a long-standing law known as the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, anyone can "nominate" a parcel of federal land for oil-and-gas development -- it doesn't cost a thing. The rules are so lax that you don't even have to supply your name if you want to nominate a piece of land, but Prairie Hills Oil & Gas did provide at least that much context when it asked the federal Bureau of Land Management to set aside land between Arches and Canyon-lands. Prairie Hills Oil & Gas, of North Dakota, it turns out, is headquartered at a home that Larson, an attorney, co-owns in Big Lake, Minnesota, about 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis. After the land is nominated, and certain review processes are completed, the B.L.M. moves to set up a lease auction, which, in the case of Larson and Utah, is scheduled for September. (Although Larson has nominated the parcels, anyone, in fact, could be the ultimate winning bidder.)
The minimum competitive bid for an acre is two dollars, and that's often the price it goes for in areas like Moab -- the prospects are far from guaranteed. The lease has a term of 10 years, and, after the gavel comes down, the annual rental fee per acre would be a dollar and a half for the first five years, and two dollars for the second. As Steve Bloch, of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, explained it to me, "If Company A buys a hundred-acre lease, they will write B.L.M. a check for $520 dollars." That would include the bid, the first-year rental rate, and an administrative fee. If the company drills for oil and gas, it also pays the government a royalty of 12.5 percent on the production, and the lease can be extended.
I recently called Larson to ask him about the company's plans, and he couldn't have been more polite or more unhelpful.
"I was curious how it was you decided to ask for those leases," I said.
"You know, I really don't have much to add than what we've done as far as the nominations," he answered.
"Are you worried about the local Native American groups? Some have been upset."
"I don't really have anything more to say about it other than that our actions are public record."
"What are the next steps in the disposition?"
"It's up to the B.L.M. to decide the next steps."
"Does the current economic environment around oil and gas give you pause?"
"I guess our actions speak for themselves, and I really don't have much more to add. ..."
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