Wyoming not top contender for purchase of Occidental land

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The state of Wyoming isn’t the lead contender to buy a vast swath of land and mineral rights in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah offered for sale by Occidental Petroleum, the governor’s office said Tuesday.

Still, Wyoming will keep its bid active and confidential in case the top bid falls through, Gov. Mark Gordon said.

“We believe our bid positions Wyoming to generate additional investment revenue and would keep taxes low into the future,” Gordon said.

The total land area involved in the sale is bigger than Connecticut. About 20% of the land includes surface rights that could be leased for grazing or wind and solar energy projects.

The other 80% involves only mineral rights — ownership of trona, oil and natural gas reserves that could be leased for mining and drilling.

Gordon learned Saturday that Wyoming hadn’t submitted the leading bid, his spokesman Michael Pearlman said.

Wyoming officials don’t know who submitted the leading bid or how many bids there were, Pearlman said.

“We have selected a bidder to proceed with and we’re working on due diligence and a purchase and sale agreement with the bidder that we selected,” Occidental CEO Vicki Hollub said in an earnings call Tuesday without offering more details.

Proponents of Wyoming buying the land have said it could deliver a better return than the current rate on 10-year Treasuries. Opponents question the wisdom of Wyoming investing heavily in the boom-and-bust minerals industry amid weak revenue from coal, oil and natural gas extraction.

Wyoming has apparently “dodged a bullet” by not submitting the top bid, Bob LeResche, a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council landowner advocacy group, said.

“This ill-conceived use of our state’s ‘permanent’ investment funds would have broken an elementary investing rule of sovereign wealth funds, by doubling down on Wyoming’s primary source of existing revenue. And that mistake would have been magnified in this economy where our foundational revenues are sinking fast,” LeResche said.

Much of the land was the old route of the Transcontinental Railroad. The federal government granted Union Pacific Railroad as much as 20 square miles (52 square kilometers) of land in Wyoming and other Western states for every mile (1.6 kilometer) of track laid as an incentive to build the railroad in the 1860s.

The arrangement left Union Pacific with enormous land holdings interspersed with federal lands in a “checkerboard” pattern across a large area of the West.

Anadarko Petroleum bought the land from Union Pacific and Occidental acquired it in a merger with Anadarko in 2019.

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