Countering Keep-It-in-the-Ground Activism

Quick Facts

  • Activists staged a fake car accident at a protest of the Colorado BLM November 2015 lease sale
  • BLM has held several lease auctions offsite because protesters pose security threats to government employees and facilities
  • BLM incurred additional expenses on overtime pay for the Lakewood Police Department, which provided security as 300 protesters stormed the venue and attempted to shut down the Colorado May 2016 lease sale.

After President Obama handed a major victory to the environmental lobby by denying the Keystone XL pipeline, activists needed a new cause. The Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement was announced shortly thereafter in September 2015, aimed at stopping any oil, natural gas or coal development on federal lands.

Bill McKibben

Environmental groups such as 350.org, Food & Water Watch, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity and many others have a long-stated goal of ending fossil fuel production within the United States, regardless of the costs to society of higher priced energy and consumer goods that would result. Their first step is to force the federal government to stop new leasing on millions of acres of public lands. But even the Obama Administration understands this goal is unrealistic. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reacted to the groups demands, saying, “To keep it in the ground is naïve. To say we can go 100% renewable is naïve.”

The Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement is demanding the Obama Administration bypass Congress and issue a moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing, as has already been done to coal. Activists have also held several protests of routine Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lease sales, trying to stop the auctions. For example, 300 activists attempted to shut down BLM’s May 2016 lease sale. Police were called in, and the auction took place as scheduled, netting the federal government and State of Colorado $5.2 million.

“To keep it in the ground is naïve. To say we can go 100% renewable is naïve.”
- Interior Sec. Sally Jewell

What We’re Doing About It

While Keep-It-in-the-Ground protesters are demanding the Interior Department and BLM violate the Mineral Leasing Act and stop federal oil and natural gas leasing by executive action, Western Energy Alliance is reminding the agencies of their congressionally mandated responsibility to lease lands in states with oil and natural gas resources. The demands of the protestors are simply contrary to law designed to ensure development of the energy that all Americans own underlying public lands.

In August 2016, the Alliance filed a lawsuit challenging BLM’s failure to hold quarterly oil and natural gas lease sales. We’re simply asking the courts to compel BLM to follow decades-old law and hold quarterly lease sales in every oil and natural gas state.

As the chart shows, BLM has failed to fulfill its legal requirement to hold lease sales every quarter. Who needs noisy protests when bureaucrats are doing the same thing by simply not doing their job?

BLM Quarterly Leasing Chart 

End the Circus

Keep It In The Ground protestersIn addition to our lawsuit, we have a relatively simple solution for BLM to avoid the circus atmosphere protesters create: hold online auctions. If protesters disrupt a lease sale, we suggest BLM hold additional auctions online within that same quarter. Online auctions also have added cost-savings benefits as venues and security personnel do not have to be enlisted to handle potentially unruly crowds.

Congress authorized online auctions in lieu of in-person sales and BLM has begun the process by scheduling the first online auction in Kentucky and Mississippi in September 2016. The public still has several opportunities to comment about which lands are leased and developed, including three during the Resource Management Planning process, two when a Master Leasing Plan is developed, two during the leasing analysis process, during the project environmental analysis phases, and when a permit to drill is submitted.