SUBLETTE COUNTY – Reactions were swift and fierce after President Joe Biden signed his promised executive order Wednesday to “hit pause” on new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters.
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, the new administration’s Department of the Interior sent out a fact sheet saying the 60-day moratorium is “concurrent with a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program.”
The DOI fact sheet states, “The targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved. The order does not restrict energy activities on private or state lands or lands that the United States holds in trust or restricted status for tribes or individual Indians.”
The DOI’s Build Back Better initiative will invest in and support “clean energy generation,” reclaim land and mines on public lands, create new jobs within renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it says.
The executive order does not affect private, state or tribal lands; Wyoming has been selling oil and gas on its state land blocks but much of the state’s oil and gas development is on federal public lands.
Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso reacted early.
Gordon “slammed” Biden’s action, calling it “a misguided approach that will have severe economic consequences to Wyoming and other western states.”
He said, “The president's decision to halt federal leasing on oil and gas under the guise of a ‘pause’ is beyond misguided. It is disingenuous, disheartening and a crushing blow to the economies of many western states, particularly Wyoming. No matter how it is framed, this action is still a ban on leasing.”
Also on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso questioned Jennifer Granholme, former Michigan governor and Biden nominee for Secretary of Energy. She repeated the executive order only affects “future licenses” and renewable energy could create jobs and revive economies.
Later, Barrasso “blasted” Biden’s executive order as “divisive and illegal,” saying banning the new leases “will do nothing to address climate change.”
Elaine Crumpley of Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development said the moratorium and renewable energy initiatives are “necessary and need to happen.”
CURED members have worked with government, operators and other citizen groups for years, advocating for good air and water quality in the Upper Green River Basin’s oil and gas development.
“Of course we believe in climate change,” she said, adding Wyoming politicians are “crying wolf. It won’t affect Wyoming one single drop with a 60-day moratorium.”
Wyoming’s economy now is too dependent on fossil fuels and “counterproductive for climate change to improve,” she added. “And we have thousands of lease permits out there already that aren’t being used. Wyoming isn’t and hasn’t been drilling; production is still taking place and money is still being made or that gas wouldn’t be going down the pipeline.”
Effects to state
The Petroleum Association of Wyoming echoed concern that the nation will “increase reliance on foreign sources of (oil and gas) energy and damage the economy.”
PAW spokesman Ryan McConnaughey added, “Last year, oil and natural gas contributed $1.67 billion in revenues to the state including $740 million to public education, $28 million to higher education and $132 million to local governments. These payments average out to nearly $2,900 worth of government services for every person living in the state. Wyoming cannot absorb the estimated $300 million annual losses to critical services a leasing ban represents.”
Crumpley said people should remember this moratorium is “temporary.”
As for the hundreds of millions Gordon, Barrasso and McConnaughey cited would be lost according to a University of Wyoming study, she said, “There are also people at UW saying our economy shouldn’t be all based on fossil fuels – they are betting on finite resources.”
Gordon said it is a “radicalized” Democratic plan when bipartisan solutions could offer more.
Wyoming carbon-capture projects are leading the nation “in efforts to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere and the administration's actions stifle states like Wyoming that are actively pursuing efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and clean up the atmosphere,” Gordon added.
Barrasso added, “Recently, Republicans and Democrats worked together to enact laws that promote carbon capture technologies, support advanced nuclear reactors, provide for more efficient diesel engines and prevent greenhouse gas emissions from air conditioners. These laws are going to pay significant dividends towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
When asked how Barrasso views climate change and legislation, his energy spokesperson Sarah Durdaller said, “Sen. Barrasso believes the best way to address a climate change is through free market innovation, not government regulation or taxation. He believes America needs an all-of-the above energy strategy that includes traditional fuels, nuclear power and renewables.
“He believes innovative technologies like carbon capture will promote the long-term use of Wyoming’s natural resources and keep America energy dominant, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Integrated Test Center in Gillette is already leading the way on carbon capture research. As chairman of the Senate environment committee, Barrasso held a field hearing at the center last August. Just last month, his legislation, the USE IT Act, was signed into law. The bill will incentivize more groundbreaking carbon capture, utilization and sequestration research to occur.”