This op-ed article appeared in the Grand Junction (Colo.) Sentinel on Thursday, November 29, 2007
Energy. A highly charged topic these days, literally and figuratively. Whether speaking of oil and gas leasing and development here in Colorado, projected energy supply-and-demand scenarios, conservation, the role of renewable resources or the price at the pump, the issues are complex, challenging and controversial. Perhaps the only thing clear about energy is that using it is a lot more popular than developing it.
As American citizens and Colorado residents, I believe it’s imperative that we engage in a civil, civic dialogue on such a critically important national and state issue. Understanding the environmental, economic, social and national security issues and trade-offs associated with our nation’s energy policies is critical to the dialogue, critical to participating in public processes and ultimately critical to good decision making.
Since Congress has authorized the Bureau of Land Management to manage the federal mineral estate as part of our multiple-use mandate, and provided specific direction on how to do so, the BLM is right in the middle of much of the energy dialogue. This is as it should be, since these lands and energy resources belong to the American people.
Unfortunately, news reports too often give the impression that all energy development in Colorado is taking place on BLM-managed public lands when, in fact, statewide less than 15 percent of new oil and gas wells are on federal lands. Some days it seems that 15 percent of activity receives 100 percent of the coverage!
While this is frustrating to us, it does the public a disservice. It’s important to tell 100 percent of the story.
Colorado currently has 33,357 producing wells, 4,479 of which are federal wells. Last year, for example, the state of Colorado approved roughly 5,904 new well permits and 706 were federal well permits approved by BLM. Statewide, less than 15 percent of new wells in 2006 and 2007 have been federal. For Western Slope counties, federal well permits account for 24 percent of the permits issued.
Fifty percent of all revenue from federal leasing and development is shared directly with the state where the energy is produced. The other half goes to the federal treasury. Last year, BLM shared $2.1 billion with states. Colorado received $148 million in federal royalties.
The public, owners of the public lands and minerals the BLM manages, should know that development on federal lands is the most regulated, most analyzed and provides the most opportunity for public input of any energy development in Colorado. Federal wells and the leases associated with them go through at least two rigorous environmental analysis processes, first during the leasing decision and second prior to any development. These National Environmental Policy Act processes include an environmental analysis identifying potential impacts of the action to other resources such as water, air, wildlife, etc., and stipulations and conditions of approval to mitigate those impacts. They are open to public involvement and participation.
Currently, there is no comparable process for the 85 percent of activity that is solely regulated by the state, although recently passed state legislation may begin to address this difference.
Given public questions, concerns and ideas about energy development and potential impacts on communities, air, water, wildlife and economies, I think it is essential that we take as holistic a look as possible. For some time now, I have been advocating to the state that we work together to take a strategic, statewide approach to address energy development and related issues. I am hopeful that the state will take us up on our proposal. Certainly, the BLM stands ready and willing to participate.
I appreciate media coverage of energy issues. I encourage more in-depth articles and request that they be as accurate and as complete as possible, covering all aspects of the complex energy issue. I also encourage more opinion pieces from different points of view, showcasing the wide variety of perspectives on the issue.
BLM welcomes the dialogue. Too often in this debate people seem to want to blame someone — the BLM, the energy industry, Congress, the administration. Personally, I’m reminded of the old Pogo comic strip and Pogo’s infamous words: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It is us, all of us, and our insatiable demand for energy, that are fueling the energy boom.
I also believe that it is all of us — through vigorous discussion and debate at the local, state and national levels — who will craft workable solutions that meet our energy needs while ensuring a healthy environment, economy, state and nation. That’s BLM’s goal, as tough and challenging as it is. I encourage everyone to participate. Let’s work together to create the future we all want.