Efforts to expand oil and gas leasing on public lands, even on lands that are unlikely to produce oil and gas, threaten our state’s outdoor recreation industry and quality of …
Efforts to expand oil and gas leasing on public lands, even on lands that are unlikely to produce oil and gas, threaten our state’s outdoor recreation industry and quality of life. Oil and gas is an important part of our economy, but we should not treat it as the only industry.
I own and operate North Fork Anglers and Tour to Yellowstone. I am deeply concerned about the impacts of new oil and gas leasing in Wyoming’s iconic fish and wildlife habitat and the places we hunt and fish. I know firsthand the importance of the conservation and access to these areas, as my livelihood is rooted in tourism. In fact, Wyoming saw over 8.9 million overnight visitors in 2018 — and outdoor recreation in Wyoming generates nearly 50,000 jobs.
The oil and gas industry currently has 25.6 million acres of leased public lands, including 4 million acres in Wyoming, that are not being developed. Continuing to lease public lands while industry is sitting on existing, undeveloped leases doesn’t make sense. Leasing lands that are unlikely to generate revenue for taxpayers makes even less sense.
This December, the BLM is planning to lease an additional 173,255 acres that overlap with sage grouse habitat and important wildlife habitat. This lease sale follows the sale that took place last month and offered up nearly 317,000 acres of sage-grouse habitat and 91,000 acres within big game migration corridors, including six parcels within the famous Red Desert to Hoback mule deer migration corridor. Ultimately, industry purchased oil and gas lease rights on about 260,000 acres of sage grouse habitat — a species that is already in worrying decline.
In the upcoming December lease sale, the BLM is offering over 170,000 acres of public lands, including watersheds important for native trout conservation and restoration. Moreover, of the tens of thousands of acres being considered for this next proposed oil and gas lease sale, 83 percent are in areas that have been identified as having low potential for oil and gas development.
Leases in low potential areas generate nominal revenue but carry significant costs borne by the public. They’re cheap and easy to acquire, but because of their low potential, it is questionable whether development will actually produce oil or gas and generate royalties for taxpayers. And yet, leasing lands with low development potential can supersede other uses of those lands, like fish and wildlife conservation and tourism. This is because once public lands are leased, they are encumbered with a right to development, while the public has no equivalent right for conservation or recreation. When push comes to shove, fish and wildlife and hunters and anglers get the short end of the stick.
Oil and gas development has its place and is an important economic sector for Wyoming, but it must be balanced with fish and wildlife conservation, recreation, tourism and all the other uses on our public lands. Cumulative impacts of oil and gas leasing and development have not been sufficiently analyzed for potential negative consequences and we need leadership in government to ensure healthy, intact public lands remain accessible for all.
Cold, clean water and quality fish and wildlife habitat is what drives Wyoming’s outdoor traditions. We can have both oil and gas development and quality hunting and fishing, but not if oil and gas development is the dominant use of public lands to the detriment of everything else that makes our state a destination for hunting, fishing and tourism — as well as a fantastic place to live.