• Range Writing

Stop. Go. Shift. Increase fees. Oil & Gas Forum Hears It All.

The U.S. Department of the Interior continued its virtual forum on federal oil and gas program this afternoon, and about 600 viewers watching the live event online, with attendance declining as the forum continued throughout the afternoon. The forum is the first major public event undertaken by the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in the Biden Administration.

Sharon Buccino of the Natural Resources Defense Council said she would offer suggestions “to help manage the federal oil and gas that our public lands and water holds in a way that solves climate change rather than fuels it.”

“First, stop new oil and gas leasing,” she said. “The world does have a carbon budget. It's finite and it's running out, and we need a rapid transition to net zero.”

“The mineral leasing act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to lease oil, gas and coal, in her discretion,” Buccino said. “Given what we know about the contribution of federal fossil fuels to catastrophic climate change, I would argue that it is an abuse of this discretion to issue new leases.”

Buccino noted that oil and gas companies “currently have 26 million acres of public lands under lease. Only half of these are currently in production. … There's plenty of drilling that can occur without new leases.”

Sean McGarvey of the North America Building Trades Union said: “Our Unions do not represent climate deniers, and we support environmentally responsible energy policies that contain strong worker protections and allow for middle class, family sustaining jobs. We are confident that our members possess the skills and ingenuity to meet the demands of a growing industry and economy. While being responsible environmental stewards, however, our jobs are under threat for antidevelopment activists, advocates, and we find ourselves fighting for permits necessary to begin construction on energy-related infrastructure projects.”

Wendell Hibdon of United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters said his organization is disappointed in the pause in leasing, but supports diversifying energy resources – from hydro and coal, to nuclear, renewables and traditional oil and gas.

“When it comes to shuttering refineries, we just can't do it,” Hibdon said. “I mean, all we're going to be doing is shipping jobs overseas and having them send petroleum back, we can't afford to do that. What we're saying is good paying jobs for Americans should be considered with any type of climate plan. We should support our economy and our Americans first.”

Maite Arce of the Hispanic Access Foundation said, “Latinos are not only passionate about the outdoors, but are more concerned about climate change, pollution and the impact of oil and gas drilling than the general public. Latino communities want to protect their health and where their live, work, play, worship and go to school.”

Arce said that most oil drilling primarily happens in Latino, Black and indigenous communities. While Latinos rely on the oil and gas industry for jobs, “they also must live with the negative impacts to their health and their environment including thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells releasing toxic chemicals into the air and to the water.”

Arce said, “Oil and gas development is worse than COVID-19” in terms of the health of Hispanic children. “We must take a new approach prioritizing the physical, mental and social well-being of our community and create the long-term solution and consider the future generations. The touch tone for any new BLM system must put people first in their health, the health of their communities first.”

Arce said that Latino voters support transitioning to 100% renewable energy over the next 10-15 years. The transition to renewables, she said, “must be just, redressing the past harm, and creating equitable future for the community.”

Jacqui Patterson of the National Association for the Advancements of Colored People said, “The false narratives tell us that there is an inverse relationship between protecting the environment and opportunities to prosper, and that has led us to where we are today, specifically as it relates to the energy sector with the wealthy few using a reckless extractive means to harness and process energy as they amass wealth and power and sacrifice the well-being of workers and of communities in so doing.”

Patterson said both the energy and industrial sectors must be reformed, and “More than shifting to cleaner renewable energy sources, but also giving local communities control over their energy, and stable employment opportunities. The only definite way to end energy economy facilities is to reduce the amount of energy that we need and to advocate for clean renewable sources for communities including solar and wind, and even those sources must be utilized responsibly.”

Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice urged Secretary Haaland to undertake an environmental justice review of a federal oil and gas program, “in order to address the racial discrimination that is center to oil and gas operations.”

She noted that for more than 50 years, the oil and gas industry has dominated the Gulf Coast region to the detriment of black communities” by engulfing these communities in massive amounts of pollution from refining and manufacturing.

Mark Squillace, formerly of the University of Wyoming Law School, now with the University of Colorado Law School, echoed the view of Interior Secretary Haaland: “We are probably going to be living with oil and gas development for the foreseeable future, but I think what she also recognized is that we need to be thinking about how we're going to ratchet down oil and gas development in light of climate change and the concerns that that has raised for us.”

Squillace said the rapid decline of the coal industry was predictable, “and I think the same kind of writing is on the wall a bit for the oil and gas industry.” He said it’s important that we “be thinking strategically about how to manage this decline in a way that I think is most responsible.”

Squillace suggested that the Interior Department increase rental fees from $2 per acre to $10 per acre for leases, as well as increase royalties to 20%, and increase minimum bids for leased parcels.

“If we increase rental fees to something like $10 an acre, we would really, I think, see far less leasing going on, but the revenues would likely remain as high or maybe even higher than they are now,” he said. As for royalties, “There would probably be a modest decline in the amount of leasing that happened with increased royalty rates, but that would be more than made up for in terms of revenues.”

“On the environmental side, I would really like to see much more proactive use of lease stipulations and conditions” on applications for permit to drill, he said.

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