Press Releases

Hickenlooper Leads Bill To Stop Public Land Giveaways

Oct 7, 2021

COMPETES Act would end the practice of “non-competitive leasing”– giveaways of public lands for private speculation by oil and gas companies

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper introduced the Competitive Onshore Mineral Policy via Eliminating Taxpayer-Enabled Speculation (COMPETES) Act, legislation to prevent oil and gas companies from leasing taxpayer-owned public lands for next to nothing. Forty percent of acres leased for drilling go through this non-competitive process.

Under current law, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required to offer up federal lands that fail to attract bidders in oil and gas leasing auctions through a non-competitive leasing process for only $1.50 per acre, far less than the usual rate at auction. This leads to abuse by allowing companies to nominate lands for auction with no intention of bidding on them, only to acquire them later at minimal cost.

When public lands are leased and managed by BLM for production, that land is often not managed for outdoor recreation, conservation or other uses. Instead, taxpayers are on the hook for oil and gas companies’ speculation on public lands. 

“Non-competitive leasing encourages speculation on public lands at taxpayers’ expense,” said Hickenlooper. “Westerners lose out when large swaths of land are set aside for speculation instead of conservation or recreation.”

In addition to Hickenlooper, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich and Jacky Rosen.

“For too long oil and gas industry CEOs have reaped the benefits of a broken leasing system that is rigged in favor of oil industry executives and leaves our public lands, waters, and communities to pay the price.  While they have turned huge profits locking away public lands from recreational use through noncompetitive and market undercutting lease practices, taxpayers have missed out on millions of dollars every year in lost revenue on our shared natural resources,” said LCV Senior Government Affairs Advocate Ben Alexandro. “Fossil fuel companies already have far more land than they plan to use with 10,000 approved idle land leases stockpiled mostly to pad company valuation assessments. These lands could be opened for conservation, recreation, as well as other uses, and provide invaluable benefits to communities across the country including protecting public health, clean water, and air. We applaud Senator Hickenlooper for his leadership in proposing the COMPETES Act and urge Congress to include common sense reforms like this in the final Build Back Better Act to make oil and gas companies pay their fair share for exploiting taxpayer-owned resources.”

“Public lands are critical to our fight against climate change and will be a solution to solving the crisis. The practice of leasing public lands for drilling at bargain basement prices in a noncompetitive process directly conflicts with our national climate and conservation goals,” said Conservation Colorado Deputy Director Jessica Goad. “We’re thrilled that Senator Hickenlooper is leading this effort. The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management must advance reforms to the oil and gas program to align our dual climate and conservation goals and the U.S. Senate should pass this good bill right away.”

“This common-sense bill will put a stop to the wasteful practice of issuing oil and gas leases for as little as $1.50 an acre,” said Mary Greene, public lands attorney at the National Wildlife Federation. “It also improves government efficiency. Instead of spending time administering leases that will never be developed or generate money, this bill ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent on projects that will restore wildlife habitat, maintain clean water, and expand trails and recreation opportunities.”

“Senator Hickenlooper’s bill to eliminate the noncompetitive BLM leasing loophole is an example of responsible management of our public lands. The federal oil and gas program is broken and lets speculators scoop up our shared public lands for rock bottom prices, but the COMPETES Act is a no-brainer that would level the playing field. Senator Hickenlooper’s bill will increase transparency, reduce waste, save taxpayers money, and ensure that our public lands can support healthy wildlife and their habitats, strong local economies, and our quality of life for generations to come. We are thankful that Senator Hickenlooper has introduced a bill to put an end to this long out of date policy and put our public lands first,” Rodger Steen, Oil & Gas Committee Chairman, Western Colorado Alliance.

“The west’s public lands support a bevy of opportunities for communities to experience the outdoors while contributing to the state’s thriving outdoor recreation economy. Closing this wasteful noncompetitive leasing loophole is a critical part of safeguarding access to our nation’s diverse public lands. Hispanic and Latinx communities have a deep connection to public lands – with many of our cultural traditions such as fishing, hiking, hunting, and camping relying on expanded access. This legislation will help ensure that we can continue to practice these outdoor activities for years to come. As Congress moves their budget bill forward, eliminating noncompetitive leasing, as Senator Hickenlooper has proposed, must be a priority,” Camilla Simon, Executive Director, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO).

“Senator Hickenlooper’s COMPETES Act will increase transparency, increase efficiency, save the public money, and ensure that the federal government can promote the multiple uses of our shared public lands. Because the current federal oil and gas program is broken, the Bureau of Land Management is propping up oil and gas speculators who take advantage of a decades-old loophole, known as noncompetitive leasing, to lease lands without having to bid on them at an auction. Senator Hickenlooper’s bill to close this loophole is a common-sense reform that will make the federal government’s land management policies more fiscally responsible. Congress has an excellent opportunity to include this reform in the budget bill and we look forward to the day when noncompetitive leasing is a thing of the past,” Carol Hedges, Executive Director, Colorado Fiscal Institute.

“Coloradans depend on our public lands for our way of life, and we should not have to worry that our public lands are being leased to speculators behind closed doors for next to nothing. Senator Hickenlooper’s new bill will close the loophole known as noncompetitive leasing and increase fairness and transparency within the oil and gas leasing program by requiring all oil and gas leasing on public lands to be issued through a fair competitive process, instead of through the backdoor. Not only is this good government, it’s just common sense. We are grateful for Senator Hickenlooper’s leadership to get the oil and gas leasing program working for Coloradans once again, and we hope that Congress will make ending the wasteful practice of noncompetitive leasing a top priority,” Jonathan Singer, Executive Director, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC)

The bill is supported by the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, Colorado Wildlands Project, Conservation Colorado, Conservation Lands Foundation, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, Grand Canyon Trust, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO), League of Conservation Voters, League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans (LOGIC), Montana Wildlife Federation, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nevada Wildlife Federation, Public Citizen, Public Land Solutions, Rocky Mountain Wild, The Wilderness Society, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Western Colorado Alliance, Wild Montana, Wilderness Workshop, and Upper Missouri Waterkeeper.

Full text of the bill is available HERE.


  • 2020 Government Accountability Office report found that roughly 99% of lands leased non-competitively never produced oil or gas in paying quantities. Further, these lands generated less than 2% of federal royalties, despite accounting for nearly 40% of acres leased.
  • Public lands leased for production are typically not managed for other uses, such as recreation and conservation, but taxpayers are left on the hook for oil and gas companies’ speculation on public lands. 
  • The COMPETES Act would end the process of non-competitive leasing and free more public lands for outdoor recreation, conservation, and other uses. 


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