Oil and Gas Development


  • April 20th, 2021

    Dozens of members of Congress have recently urged President Biden to restore Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, which were illegally dismantled by the Trump administration. In three letters led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the members cited the monuments’ cultural significance and the need to preserve their natural and scientific values. The Durbin letter closes with an emphatic call for full restoration:

    “We wholeheartedly support the full restoration of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the expansion of Bears Ears National Monument. Securing durable, meaningful protection for these places and their irreplaceable objects is entirely consistent with the President’s stated goals and policies; anything less would fall short of what is required at this moment and would jeopardize these treasured lands.”

    25 senators signed the letters, including: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

    The House letter was signed by: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Nydia Valazquez (D-NY), Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. David Scott (D-GA), Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Salud O. Carbajal (D-CA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Donald Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. William R. Keating (D-MA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Susan K. Delbene (D-WA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA).

    If any of these members of Congress represent you, please click here to thank them for supporting full restoration of Utah’s monuments!

  • April 13th, 2021

    The Biden administration has begun the process of reviewing and modernizing the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) outdated and broken oil and gas leasing program—and not a moment too soon.

    As President Biden recognized in his January 27th executive order, “[w]e have a narrow moment to pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of [the climate] crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents.”

    The Interior Department is accepting public comments on the leasing review process through this Thursday, April 15th. Click here to submit your comments to Interior Secretary Haaland now.

    Four long years of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda highlighted just how broken the BLM’s oil and gas program has become and why significant changes are needed. Among the larger problems:

    • The BLM’s oil and gas leasing program plays a significant role in the climate crisis. According to the most recent data available from the United States Geological Survey, nationwide emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands represents 23.7 percent of national emissions for carbon dioxide, 7.3 percent for methane, and 1.5 percent for nitrous oxide over a ten-year period. All told, nearly a quarter of all U.S. carbon emissions come from fossil fuels extracted from our federal public lands.
    • Oil and gas operators currently hold thousands of leases across millions of acres of public land that they have not developed. In Utah, for example, 63 percent of the existing leases are sitting idle. Many of the leases were sold by the BLM for as little as $1.50 per acre.
    • Oil and gas operators across the West are sitting on almost 10,000 unused drilling permits. In Utah, the pace of new drilling has come to a near standstill and operators only develop approximately half of the permits that are approved. This slowdown is market-driven and occurred even during the Trump administration.

    As these statistics make clear, fossil fuel development on public lands poses a grave threat to our climate and the very last thing we need to do is make even more lands available for leasing and drilling.

    Crucially, these public lands—if left intact and protected from oil and gas leasing—can mitigate the worst effects of climate change. A recently released report estimates that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gas emissions equal to 5.7 percent of the carbon budget necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. These same lands are estimated to currently sequester and store 247 million metric tons of organic carbon.

    Tell Secretary Haaland that you support making the protection of our public lands a central pillar of America’s climate campaign.

    For far too long the BLM has wrongly elevated oil and gas leasing and development as the primary use of our nation’s public lands, threatening our climate, wildlife, cultural treasures, and wild places. This unbalanced approach must stop now.

    Please tell the Biden administration to end oil and gas leasing on our public lands—and especially those proposed for wilderness designation under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Click here to submit your comments to Interior Secretary Haaland by April 15th.

    If you prefer, you can submit your comments directly to the Interior Department at energyreview@ios.doi.gov.

    Thank you!

  • February 24th, 2021

    Copyright Liz Thomas/SUWA

    Utah Governor Cox joined by other GOP Governors and pro-pollution groups such as the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) are engaged in an aggressive misinformation campaign against President Biden’s recent Executive Order pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands to address the “profound climate crisis.” Among other untruths, the governors have argued—wrongly—that Biden’s Executive Order “bans new oil and gas development on federal lands,” and WEA argues that the Order is “bad policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” and will result in billions of dollars of lost revenue.

    Here are the facts about oil and gas leasing and development on the western public lands:

    • The Executive Order does not ban new oil and gas development on existing leases. Instead, it states that “[t]o the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands. . . .” (emphases added). The Order pauses new leasing, not development on existing leases. It does not limit oil and gas operators’ ability to develop their thousands of stockpiled leases—across the western public lands—the majority of which are sitting idle.
    • Oil and gas operators have thousands of leases, consisting of millions of acres of public lands that have not been developed. In other words, operators are not even developing the majority of leases they have already acquired. In Utah, for example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reports that there are 2,975,000 acres of existing leases across the state but that only 1,102,000 acres are currently in production—that is, sixty-three percent of the existing leases are sitting idle.[1]
    • Oil and gas operators across the West are sitting on almost 10,000 unused drilling permits. In Utah, the pace of new drilling has come to a near standstill and operators only develop approximately half of the permits that are approved. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining reports, for example, that in 2019 operators applied for 263 permits (down from more than 2,000 only a few years prior) but during that same period drilled only 154 wells (down from more than 1,100 only a few years prior). Moreover, Baker Hughes reports that as of February 19, 2021, there are only three active drill rigs in the entire state of Utah (a more than ninety percent decline from a few years ago).[2] These changes are market-driven and occurred during the Trump administration.
    • The pause on new leasing will not have a significant impact on rural Utah counties energy production bottom line—many of which see little, if any, drilling and exploration. In fact, during the four years of the Trump administration’s so-called “energy dominance” agenda, operators applied for only 43 drilling permits and drilled only 21 wells in southeastern Utah—an area encompassing more than 16 million acres of land.[3]
    • The oil and gas industry has little interest in leasing and development in Utah. In fact, the demand for new oil and gas leasing is so low that the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) has cancelled several past and upcoming auctions. SITLA leasing is not affected by Biden’s Executive Order.
    • In 2020, the BLM issued only seventeen leases in 2020, covering 11,045 acres. In total, the high bidders paid just $51,617 to acquire these leases.
    • Due to outdated laws, speculators can acquire oil and gas leases for ten-year periods for as little as $1.50 per acre—a broken process that generates little revenue for the state (none of which goes directly to fund public education). In Utah, fourteen of the seventeen leases issued by the BLM in 2020 sold for the minimum amount per acre (82 percent). 
    • Based on the above discussed leasing data, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Trump’s four-year “energy dominance” agenda had very little economic benefit in Utah.

    And here are the facts about how fossil fuel development is driving the Climate Crisis:

    • The Climate Crisis is being driven in large part by the Bureau’s oil and gas leasing program. According to the most recent data available from the United States Geological Survey, “[n]ationwide emissions from fossil fuels produced on Federal lands in 2014 were 1,279.0 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMT CO2 Eq.) for carbon dioxide, 47.6 MMT CO2 Eq. for methane . . . and 5.5 MMT CO2 Eq. for nitrous oxide.” These emissions totals represent “23.7 percent of national emissions for [carbon dioxide], 7.3 percent for [methane], and 1.5 percent for [nitrous oxide] over” a ten year period.
    • Public lands—if left intact and protected from the threats of oil and gas leasing and development—can mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In a recent report, it is estimated that passage of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would permanently keep in the ground greenhouse gas emissions equal to 5.7 percent of the carbon budget necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. These same lands are estimated to currently sequester and store 247 million metric tons of organic carbon.

    [1] Data available on BLM’s Oil and Gas Statistics website (follow hyperlinks for Tables 2 and 6), https://www.blm.gov/programs/energy-and-minerals/oil-and-gas/oil-and-gas-statistics.

    [2] Follow hyperlink for “Rigs by State – Current and Historical.”

    [3] There are only two oil and gas producing counties of any particular importance in Utah: Duchesne and Uintah. In these northeastern Utah counties, operators applied for 1,257 drilling permits from 2017-2020 (the “energy dominance” years). However, consistent with their established pattern and practice, less than half of the approved permits were ever drilled (567).

  • February 10th, 2021

    Recognizing that people of color have historically been left out of the U.S. public land conservation movement, SUWA is committed to raising up diverse voices across the Intermountain West. Our Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest seeks to elevate new and essential voices through personal narratives pertinent to the broader conversation around public lands and their protection.

    Please join us in celebrating the three winners of our 2020 Stewardship Scholar Essay Contest. Our final winner  is Alex Sanchez.


     

    Naps to Activism
    by Alex Sanchez

    The ground is sacred to me—especially a patch of earth nestled in between the Education and the Psychology buildings on my campus. There is a small grass courtyard, and a place I have found that is safe to sleep. Covered with trees, the small grassy area is well hidden from the “the mall,” a busy mile-long walkway running through the middle of campus. Since my freshman year, it has become my safe haven.

    I struggled to sleep growing up because I didn’t feel safe. I was always on alert. From age 4 to 11 I was regularly molested, leaving me with the inability to let my guard down when I went to bed at night. As a biracial, queer child, I was also constantly guarding my identity and evading being outed before I was ready. Despite having some lesbian and gay family members on my family’s Mexican side, both my parents expressed queerphobic views to me in passing. We would see a queer couple at a basketball tournament and my mom would say things like, “I can’t see how a woman could date another woman, rather than a man.”

    Anytime any of my siblings or I got in trouble, we would be lectured by dad. It would start with what you did wrong and move into how your choices would lead you to drugs, rape, jail, and/or death. He never forgot to mention that he believed God didn’t intend people to be gay and the diseases they got through sex were God’s way of righting the wrongs. We saw his lesbian sisters regularly—they are my godparents—but we never talked about their partners, or what it meant that they lived with woman. When Caitlyn Jenner won an ESPY, my parents talked about her and other trans people as if they were monsters. Little did they know my “tomboy” essence was gender dysphoria.

    There was something about that courtyard on campus that felt safe. My family and my abuser were over 400 miles away. Few students even knew it existed. When I moved to Arizona from New Mexico, I felt I could breathe, release the tension I had been holding in while growing up in place I’d been forced to hide my self. In between classes I would melt into the ground and let the sun heal me. The warmth of the intense UV rays in Tucson felt like a hug from the earth, encouraging me to relax, to rest amid the burnout culture of the University. For the past three years, I have napped or just laid down at that spot five days a week—until the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. I haven’t been to campus since March 2020. I miss my nap spot, the place I’d go when I felt overwhelmed by school or by life. It was where I went if I needed to reconnect with myself and with the world around me.

    I’ve had to learn a new way of connecting and destressing in order to survive this year. Instead of napping, I’ve taken up Vinyasa Yoga. The asanas (the poses or movements) help me connect with my body and the earth beneath me. Special attention is paid to toes being spread, pressing into the palms, and pushing into the floor. The pranayama (breathing exercise) and final meditation in savasana connect me to the earth. In those moments, I think about how my breath is reliant on the trees and how my exhale feeds them in return. As I lay flat on the ground, I feel the earth on my back and know that I am safe in her presence. I am whole.

    There is an Indigenous spiritual teacher that I admire named the Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley of Portland Seminary. Woodley often speaks about how in the decolonized, indigenous worldview, everything is sacred. The earth and the animals and people who inhabit it are all sacred. The earth becomes our mother or our sibling—a living, sacred being to love and to learn from. The animals become our siblings of equal status. And without dualistic, imperialistic thinking, it is hard to rank one people above another. In Woodley’s view, if you see everyone and everything in creation as sacred, it is then that you get true justice and true shalom. That is the driving force of the activism I participate in—from protesting with the Movement for Black Lives, to raising a voice against Immigration Customs Enforcement and the evil happening at the border, fighting for LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and standing with the Tohono O’odham people as they resist a wall dividing their reservation and homelands. Everyone and everything is sacred.

    Through finding the places I have felt safe, I have been able to grow and learn to trust myself, and free up the courage to fight for others. Connecting with creation and myself through my favorite nap spot or yoga reminds me that the world is much bigger than I am, and yet I can trust that I am a sacred vital part in it. My voice and my body matter in this world.

    I’m Alex. Originally from New Mexico, I moved to Tucson AZ to pursue my education. I’m currently majoring in psychology and creative writing with a minor in Africana Studies, and plan to pursue a PhD in social psychology upon graduation with the hopes of doing research on social constructs such as gender, stereotypes, and injustice. I also hope to continue to write and publish creative non-fiction essays.

    My favorite outdoor activities include yoga and napping on the University of Arizona campus under the sun.