The federal government recently finished a series of rather standard auctions for new oil and gas leases in Utah and nearby states. And one glaring thing stood out.
Thang bought 108 federal leases from the Bureau of Land Management during its last round of quarterly sales, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars acquiring rights to drill on thousands of acres spread across five states. She has also purchased 124 state leases since July from New Mexico and Wyoming.
Reached Friday, Thang denied she was speculating, saying she plans to develop her Utah leases, for which she paid about $77,000.
“I always wanted to be an owner of oil and gas drilling,” she said. “People have contacted me to see if I would sell and I said no. They said they would pay a little more.”
The leases are near Richfield and in Millard County. Thang said the pandemic has sidelined her other businesses, “so this is the right time to focus on oil and gas for me.”
According to Interior’s leasing guidelines, anyone can acquire a BLM lease as long the person is a U.S. citizen older than 18 and has no outstanding debts to the federal government. Thang told The Salt Lake Tribune that she is not a citizen, but a “legal permanent resident” of the United States.
As is the BLM’s custom, it won’t issue the leases to Thang until officials have reviewed the bids for compliance with resource management plans and other policies, according to an agency spokesman.
While noncitizens are barred from holding oil and gas leases, federal law does allow these public assets to be acquired by corporations organized under U.S. laws. That appears to be the path Thang is taking.
According to federal records, Thang participated in six BLM auctions in August and September under a recently formed limited liability company, or LLC, named after her and listing a headquarters in Los Angeles. She said she has acquired federal leases previously but under a different company name. She declined to provide the name of that firm.
At the BLM’s Sept. 22 auction for Montana leases, Thang’s LLC bought 21 of the 38 parcels offered, including one she won with a $131,440 bid, spending a total of $345,000.
Thang was born in Myanmar, has lived in the United States for the past 20 years, she said, and is currently based in Southern California. Her website says she writes cookbooks and poetry, travels, produces cologne and skin care products and promotes Christian faith. Her two children were born in the United States, and she has returned to her native country in Southeast Asia to perform humanitarian work, she said.
Thang’s website says she manages her families properties and “champions environmental protection by planting trees and flowers.” It describes her as “a source of new ideas, a symbol of hard work and perseverance, best known for her work of compassion among the vulnerable.”
None of this, of course, qualifies someone to develop oil and gas deposits. That someone with Thang’s background could buy rights to 108 federal parcels in the span of a few weeks raises troubling issues about the federal leasing program, according to SUWA’s Newell.
Such leases are essentially a contract giving the holder an exclusive right to extract oil and gas from the leased parcel as long as it’s producing within 10 years. Indiscriminate leasing upsets environmentalists because these leases obligate the BLM to manage the land to accommodate future energy production.
“The Trump administration’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda has fueled this extreme example of lease speculation,” Newell said. “In a matter of weeks, the Bureau of Land Management sold hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands across the American West for fossil fuel development, further doubling down on the worsening climate crisis. On top of that, the bureau sold these leases to a single company, with no known oil and gas experience, and generally at rock bottom prices. Even if you accepted the Trump administration’s devotion to fossil fuel development, and ignored its devastating impacts to the planet, these leasing decisions stand out as outlandish.”
The Williamses are challenging that decision.
But unlike the noted Utah author, Thang said she wants to get into the energy business with the aim of helping others.
“I am grateful for the county I was born in, and grateful for the country I am living in,” she said. “All my profits I donate to other countries. I live very simple.”