Unlikely coalitions form to buy out mineral leases from energy companies

Posted: Mar 20, 2013

Written by

Jack Healy, New York Times/GW
Hoback Basin

Environmentalists are joining forces with a seemingly unlikely coalition of ranchers, hunters and rich landowners to try to buy out the mineral leases that oil and gas companies purchase from the federal government on public lands.

In the past, environmentalists have bought out landowners looking to sell their property to developers for mini-malls or subdivisions. But in this case, the environmentalists are pursuing the rights to public lands. Once they secure the rights -- after paying top dollar -- lawmakers write legislation prohibiting future drilling there.

The Trust for Public Land in Wyoming joined up with fishermen, steelworkers and others, collecting $8.75 million to purchase energy development leases on 58,000 acres of forests and mountains. To raise the money, they held benefit concerts, auctioned a guitar autographed by Johnny Depp and received donations -- one from a Swiss billionaire who gave $4.25 million.

But efforts aren't always successful. Groups raised $2.5 million to buy the leases for the national forest known as the Thompson Divide in Colorado. But not all the oil and gas companies that held the rights responded to the groups' offer -- and those that did rejected it.

The federal land can be auctioned off again if energy leases expire. And proponents hope to see a law enacted that would permanently prohibit future drilling on lands they acquire. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) has developed a bill to that effect, but it has yet to be introduced.

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