Letter: Lease sale moratorium provides opportunity
The Biden administration recently issued a moratorium on new oil and gas lease sales on federal public lands. Although the petroleum industry has decried this moratorium claiming it will affect jobs and the economy, in reality, this pause on new leases will have minimal impact on the industry’s ability to grow and operate. In Colorado alone, oil and gas companies already hold the leases to 2.4 million acres with 1.4 million acres currently undeveloped.
The president cited climate concerns as a main reason for the moratorium. Indeed, a recent report from Rocky Mountain Wild shows fossil fuel development on federal lands produces a quarter of all fossil fuels in our country and is responsible for 24% of our nation’s carbon emissions.
However, a moratorium on new leases will also allow the Department of the Interior to review decades-old practices, such as permitting petroleum companies to stockpile leases on lands that have little potential for development. Once leased, these “locked” lands cannot be used for meaningful conservation purposes. Under these antiquated rules, public lands are sometimes leased for as little as $2 per acre, and royalty rates are the same as they were nearly 100 years ago. Reforming these practices would help to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return on federal resources.
The biggest opportunity in pausing new leases will be to gain a better understanding of the growing impacts of abandoned and inactive petroleum wells. A recent report by the National Wildlife Federation states that cleanup of these wells could cost the West more than $1 billion.
Currently, operators post bonds that do not cover the full cost of reclamation, leaving taxpayers with the remaining bill. When well sites are not reclaimed, communities and agriculture are affected by threats to air and water quality from leaching chemicals and leaking gases. Additionally, these abandoned wells are often located in big game corridors or sensitive wildlife habitat and can be detrimental to recreation economies.
Although this moratorium will have little effect on climate change, it is an opportunity to reassess priorities for our remaining public lands. It can help to ensure that citizens receive a fair rate of return on our shared resources. It can also help us to envision a future where public lands are managed to support sustainable and diversified economies, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. That is a future we can all live with.
Diane R. Miller
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