By GREG WALCHER
Willy Sutton famously told a reporter that he robbed banks for one simple reason: “That’s where the money is.” Now, it is as if someone said to him, “You can go ahead and steal money, but not from banks.”
There have always been extremists who want to ban all energy production on public lands, but that is where vast stores of America’s energy resources are located. A potential ban has become more serious this year, as numerous candidates for national office now support a ban.
It started with only the most extreme candidates. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), promised last spring to ban all new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, on her first day in the Oval Office. That set off a “me, too” movement that may find its way to the loftiest positions in government. “Sen. Warren is setting an example of the kind of climate action we expect from candidates running for office,” said one top environmental industry leader.
Other candidates jumped on the bandwagon, including Joe Biden, Cory Booker, and Pete Buttigieg. Bernie Sanders felt the need to go further than banning “new” leasing. He pledged to “immediately end all new and existing fossil fuel extraction on federal public lands.” Several candidates quickly agreed, including Tim Ryan and Jay Inslee. Even former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, normally more moderate on energy issues, wrote a Denver Post op-ed chiding President Trump for the increasing use of public lands for energy production. The feeding frenzy was on.
Even after most candidates dropped out of the race, Sanders continued to push the presumptive nominee, Biden, on the issue. In their March 15 CNN debate, Biden came out swinging — at the energy industry. “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period. Ends.” He also pledged no “new fracking,” which essentially means no more natural gas productions, since 95 percent of it involves fracking. A Global Energy Institute analysis found that a fracking ban would double gasoline prices, quadruple household electricity prices, raise the average cost of living by $5,661 per person, increase natural gas prices by 324 percent, and cause the loss of 19 million jobs within five years.
Another new analysis now warns of dire consequences should an energy production ban be imposed on public lands. It was prepared for the American Petroleum Institute by the expert firm, OnLocation, using software that also is used by the U.S. Energy Information Administration for its Annual Energy Outlook. It shows that the U.S. would lose 68 percent of its natural gas production and 44 percent of its oil development by 2030, causing a $700 billion decline in the gross domestic product by 2030, and risking more than $9 billion in government revenue from taxes and royalties. Much attention is focused on the Gulf Coast, which could lose 200,000 jobs, and Texas, which could lose 120,000 jobs. But such a ban could devastate the economy of Rocky Mountain States, too.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association says a ban could cost New Mexico 62,000 jobs by 2021. Wyoming produces 16 percent of all federal onshore oil, and could lose 33,000 jobs and $640 million in state revenue under a total ban. Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico account for 88 percent of all federal production of natural gas, so this is not a small issue.
You see, a significant amount of the nation’s fuel production happens on federal lands and waters — 42 percent of coal, 24 percent of crude oil and 13 percent of natural gas in 2017. But even that misses the main point. For the first time since 1953, the U.S. is actually close to energy independence, producing 94 percent of the oil it consumes. We are the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, and less reliant on unfriendly countries that could kneecap our economy with the turn of a valve. Does Biden really want to go back to that? His federal leasing ban proposal would force America to depend more on fuel supplies from abroad, including many of our adversaries. According to the API analysis, the U.S. would spend $500 billion more on foreign energy supplies through 2030 — sending $500 billion more to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Columbia, Mexico, and Canada. That cannot be good for America?
Increasing production from public lands — not banning it — may be our surest guarantee of energy security. Because like money in the banks, that’s where the resource is.
Greg Walcher is president of the Natural Resources Group and author of “Smoking Them Out: The Theft of the Environment and How to Take it Back.” He is a Western Slope native.