Cheyenne, Wyo. • Occidental Petroleum has extended by one week a Wednesday deadline for Wyoming to bid on a swath of land and mineral rights bigger than Connecticut, a spokesman for Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday.
The bid on the 6,250 square miles of the company’s holdings mainly in southern Wyoming but also northern Colorado and Utah will now be due by July 8.
The State Loan and Investment Board made up of Gordon and the other four statewide elected officials will hold an as-yet unscheduled special meeting sometime before then to consider and vote on a bid, Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman said.
Occidental Vice President for Corporate Affairs Melissa Schoeb declined comment but the company hasn't held tight to previous deadlines, Pearlman said by email.
“This has been an evolving process throughout,” Pearlman said.
The board will take comments from the public but the state's bid will be confidential, Pearlman said.
Wyoming's bid could open up back-and-forth dealing between the state and Occidental, Pearlman added.
State officials haven't said how much the land may be worth but even rock-bottom land values in the desolate, high-desert landscape could push the price above $1 billion. The money would come from the state's investment funds, Pearlman said.
The state seeks the land to diversify its investments. As things stand, Wyoming faces a sharp drop in revenue due to weak demand and low prices for coal, oil and natural gas. Gas drilling in the area could be especially lucrative, however, if those prices returned to levels of the early 2000s.
The lands could also provide revenue from trona mining, cattle and sheep grazing, and wind and solar development, according to a Wyoming governor's office fact sheet on the proposal.
Few others besides the state would have an interest in or the means to buy all of the land at once. About 80% of the land is mineral rights and 20% surface holdings in a “split estate” distinction common in Western states that can allow companies or individuals to mine or drill where they don’t own the land surface.
A purchase lead to an unusual arrangement of Wyoming getting mineral rights beneath two other states.
Wyoming isn't the only bidder but it's not clear if the extension also applies to others bidding, Pearlman said.
The land has deep historical roots. The U.S. government granted Union Pacific Railroad as much as 20 square miles of land for every mile of track laid as an incentive to build the Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s.
The arrangement left Union Pacific with enormous land holdings interspersed with federal lands in a “checkerboard” pattern across a huge area of the West. Anadarko bought the lands from Union Pacific and Occidental acquired them in a merger with Anadarko in 2019.