Leasing of Public Lands for Drilling & Fracking Now Halted

by Duane Nichols on January 28, 2021

Colorado has already been drilled and fracked for oil & natural gas

Some 32 Colorado Groups Support Biden’s Pledge to Halt New Fossil Fuel Leasing & Permitting on Public Lands

From a Press Release of the Center for Biological Diversity, et al., January 26, 2021

DENVER— As President Biden prepares to announce a ban on new oil and gas leasing and permitting on public lands and oceans, 32 climate, conservation, religious and business groups in Colorado today announced support for the move in a letter to the president.

Biden promised during the campaign that he would ban new leasing and permitting activities.

The groups’ letter warns that federal fossil fuel expansion will worsen climate-related damage in Colorado, including floods and wildfires, more severe heatwaves and droughts, and increasing food and water insecurity — including in the Colorado River Basin.

“It is causing the collapse of ecosystems and hastening the extinction crisis,” the letter said. “Colorado’s ski industry has declared that climate change is its ‘greatest threat’ and that ‘government must act’…Parts of western Colorado have already seen warming of 2°C; further warming threatens organic agriculture in the region.”

The letter said a leasing ban aligns with the state of Colorado’s climate goals. Its legislature has declared that “we must work together to reduce statewide greenhouse gas pollution in order to limit the increase in the global average temperature to one and one-half degrees Celsius.” Potential greenhouse gas pollution from oil, gas and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines, even without any new leasing or permitting, would take the world beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In addition to helping safeguard Colorado’s climate, ending new leasing and permitting would protect many of the state’s most treasured public lands and vulnerable communities. Oil and gas infrastructure is omnipresent in parts of Colorado, threatening public health, schools, neighborhoods, low-income communities and communities of color.

Groups signing today’s letter are 350 Colorado; Be the Change, Colorado; Call to Action Colorado; CatholicNetwork; Center for Biological Diversity; Central Colorado Wilderness Coalition; Citizens for a Healthy Community; Clean Energy Action; Colorado Businesses for a Livable Climate; Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate; Colorado Latino Forum; Colorado Rising; Colorado Sierra Club; Community for Sustainable Energy; Estes Valley Clean Energy Coalition; Fort Collins Sustainability Group; Great Old Broads for Wilderness; High Country Conservation Advocates; Mothers Out Front; National Parks Conservation Association; Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado, RapidShift Network, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council; Seven Generation, LLC; The Climate Mobilization – Colorado; The Wilderness Society; Unite North Metro Denver; Western Environmental Law Center; Wild Connections; WildEarth Guardians; Wilderness Workshop; and Wind & Solar Denver.

Statements From Colorado Groups

“Colorado and the planet can’t afford the greenhouse gas pollution that would come with new fossil fuel extraction on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Aligning our nation’s public-land policies with its climate goals is long overdue. Halting new leases is a good first step to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

“We need to phase out oil and gas production entirely in Colorado and throughout the U.S. over the coming decade,” said Kevin Cross of the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate. “The leasing ban on public lands that we expect President Biden to impose is a good place to start. We can’t frack our way out of the climate crisis.”

“The North Fork Valley in Southwest Colorado is in the middle of a climate hotspot warming faster than the global average and has been calling for no new oil and gas leasing of our surrounding public lands and watershed for over a decade,” said Natasha Léger, executive director at Citizens for a Healthy Community. “53,000 no-leasing public comments were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management in 2016 and ignored when the BLM approved the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan in April 2020 to open up 95% of BLM lands and minerals to oil and gas leasing. A ban on new fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands is critical to our hard-fought efforts to preserve vital local ecosystems necessary for a resilient and livable future.”

“Imposing a moratorium on new public lands oil and gas leases and permits is a sensible step to provide the Biden administration with the opportunity to repair the immense damage to public lands, wildlife and public-health safeguards caused by the previous administration,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “A moratorium also provides all stakeholders the opportunity to make their case regarding the future of the public lands oil and gas program that is aligned with the urgency demanded by the climate crisis.”

“Colorado can’t follow through on bold climate action if the federal government is simply going to rubber-stamp more fossil fuel extraction from the state’s public lands,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “A halt to selling public lands for fracking is a critical step forward for comprehensive climate action and justice in Colorado.”

Background Information

Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.

Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for keeping the world below a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase.

Existing laws give presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing. More than 500 groups have called on Biden to enact his commitment to “banning new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lee Burton January 28, 2021 at 8:59 am

President Joe Biden halts federal oil and gas leasing to review the program —
Order is part of sweeping executive action to tackle the global climate crisis

By Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 27, 2021

In a sweeping move to confront the global climate crisis head on, President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed executive orders aimed at establishing American leadership in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Central to this campaign is a moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing, pending a review of the program, that is sure to spark a backlash from the fossil fuel industry and energy-producing states like Utah.

“In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer,” Biden said at the White House. “We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

His orders did not include outright bans on leasing and drilling that climate activists have clamored for, but they send a strong signal that the Biden administration is headed in a diametrically opposite direction from his predecessor. Donald Trump’s “American energy dominance” agenda swept aside most hurdles to oil and gas extraction on public lands.

Biden directed the Interior Department to launch a “rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030,” the White House said in a statement posted Wednesday morning. That effort is expected to soon be led by New Mexico’s Rep. Deb Haaland, Biden’s nominee for interior secretary.

Wednesday’s announcement, which builds on Biden’s earlier cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline and embrace of the Paris climate accord, follows a 60-day moratorium he issued on virtually all of the Interior Department’s decision-making.

Utah’s political leaders last week denounced these measures as an attack on rural Utah, which relies on oil and gas revenues to support local businesses and schools.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox predicted the leasing pause would set back investment and energy production in Utah, where two-thirds of the land is managed by the federal government, and keep many from being able to provide for their families.

“Unity in our nation can only be reached when we work together to solve complex challenges,” Cox said. “His action was taken without coordination with the state to determine how his decision would impact rural Utah and those that live there.”

One industry group, American Energy Alliance, falsely characterized Biden’s move as a “ban on oil and natural gas production,” predicting it would lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers and greater reliance on foreign sources of energy, while doing nothing to combat climate change.

“President Biden should focus his own energies on Americans and the American economy,” said the group’s president, Thomas Pyle, in a statement. “If he were serious about justice and equality, his emphasis would be on encouraging energy sources that can deliver affordable energy to every one of every income level.”

Sally Jewell, interior secretary under President Barack Obama, dismissed such claims as “a political rallying cry” that are not grounded in facts. Over the past several years, industry has amassed leases on millions of acres, most of which have yet to be drilled, along with nearly 10,000 unused drill permits.

On Jewell’s watch, Interior imposed a moratorium on the coal leasing while it undertook a comprehensive review of federal coal program similar to what Biden is now doing with oil and gas. The Trump administration lifted that moratorium without implementing any reforms proposed during the review.

Like the coal program, Jewell believes, the oil and gas program needs a drastic overhaul to square it with the realities of climate change and Americans’ growing interest in recreation on public lands.

”These laws were written at a time when there was concern about U.S. energy security and energy independence and they were all written to accelerate leasing as fast as possible without looking at what was a fair return to the American taxpayer,” said Jewell, who started her career as a petroleum engineer and later became CEO for a leading retailer of outdoor gear.

Environmental groups support halting leasing

While drawing condemnation from Utah’s political leadership, Biden’s announcement drew cheers from environmental leaders across the nation.

“Hitting pause on oil and gas leasing is a crucial first step toward reforming a rigged and broken system that for too long has put oil and gas lobbyists ahead of the American people,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities. “This temporary pause in leasing will give Secretary Haaland and the Interior team time for a top-to-bottom review, and give Congress time to pass long-overdue legislation to overhaul an outdated system that has enriched oil and gas CEOs at the expense of America’s land, water, and wildlife.”

About a quarter of the nation’s carbon emissions are believed to come from fossil energy extracted on public lands and waters, which account for 22% of U.S. oil production and 12% of natural gas production.

“For too long, fossil fuel interests profited from excessive extraction near communities, leaving locals with the cost of pollution and health consequences,” Carly Ferro, director of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter, said. “We welcome this news and look forward to a new vision for land management that centers public health, protection of nature and green space, and a future we can all benefit from.”

In deference to tribal sovereignty, Biden’s order won’t restrict energy development on Utah’s Ute Indian Reservation and other tribal lands, which the federal government holds in trust for the tribes. Nor does it affect coal leasing on public lands or halt drilling on existing oil and gas leases.

In a statement Wednesday, the White House said the president intends to lead a clean energy revolution that will result in a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and get the nation on a “irreversible path to a net-zero economy” by 2050.

“Today’s actions advance those goals and ensure that we are tapping into the talent, grit, and innovation of American workers, revitalizing the U.S. energy sector, conserving our natural resources and leveraging them to help drive our nation toward a clean energy future, creating well-paying jobs with the opportunity to join a union, and delivering justice for communities who have been subjected to environmental harm,” the White House said.

Another order commits the nation to conserving 30% of its lands and waters by 2030, an idea known as the “30 by 30″ initiative.

Industry leaders fear a 1-year leasing moratorium holds “profound and far-reaching negative consequences” for Utah’s economic future. Oil and gas revenues, which could be reduced under a leasing moratorium, play an important role supporting rural communities and maintain national parks, according to Utah Petroleum Association President Rikki Hrenko-Browning:

“Most of Utah’s federal natural gas properties are located in rural areas, particularly in the Uintah Basin, where oil and gas income provide a lifeline of financial support for education, health care, and other public services, especially for local governments and special districts,” Hrenko-Browning said. “These losses in the oil and gas sector spill over to the Utah economy writ large, the effects of which are exacerbated by the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Under lease already

But supporters of the moratorium point out that plenty of federal land remains under lease and available for drilling. Less than half the 3 million acres under lease in Utah are in production, according to Bureau of Land Management statistics.

“In Utah alone, the industry is sitting on more than 1.7 million acres of unused federal oil and gas leases on some of our nation’s wildest and most culturally significant public lands,” said Steve Bloch, legal director of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “At the same time, drilling is at a historically low rate. In this landscape, the Biden administration’s pause on new leasing will not impact the oil and gas industry’s bottom line.”

During its four-year run, the Trump administration offered leases on nearly 1 million acres in Utah, but industry did not show much interest. More than half the offerings sold for the minimum $2 an acre or failed to attract any bidders at all, according to an analyses by the Center for Western Priorities and other groups.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus and other elected leaders in Grand County last year convinced the BLM to refrain from selling leases in recreation hot spots near that southern Utah town. She doesn’t believe the leasing moratorium will hurt her community, which hosts a few productive oil fields.

“Land that has yet to be leased is probably not super productive, otherwise it would have already been leased by now,” Niehaus said. “Hitting the pause button on new leases isn’t actually all that progressive. It’s not going to hurt us because I would rather have productive lease development than more leases that just kind of sends out the industry and then goes into direct conflict with recreation areas.”



Brendan DeMelle January 28, 2021 at 12:59 pm

Message From the Editor of DeSmog Blog

From Brendan DeMelle, DeSmog, January 27, 2021

This week President Biden signed an executive order directing his Department of Interior to hit pause on entering new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands, the latest in a string of climate-related directives aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Unsurprisingly, various industry groups immediately sprang into action to oppose the move, claiming hundreds of jobs were at stake.

But Nick Cunningham takes a closer look at this misleading messaging.

See this Article ……Oil Industry Inflates Job Impact From Biden’s New Pause on Drilling on Federal Lands | DeSmog



Sarah Vogelsong May 30, 2021 at 11:08 am

Despite lawmakers lifting caps on school and government solar, COVID-19 slowed growth
By Sarah Vogelsong – Virginia Mercury, June 11, 2021

PHOTO — Solar panels on the roof of Powhatan Elementary School. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

POWHATAN — More than a year after the dozens of solar panels that blanket the roofs of Powhatan Elementary and Powhatan Middle School hummed to life, state and county officials finally cut the ribbon on the project.

“In 2020, when the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, this is what we were forecasting,” said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield. “This is what we hoped for.”

But while the Powhatan solar arrays were illustrations of one of the Clean Economy Act’s goals of expanding school and local government solar, they were also representative of another force that has shaped those plans for the past 15 months: COVID-19.

Since the Virginia Clean Economy Act went into effect on July 1, progress on school and government solar has slowed considerably. In 2019, according to records from the State Corporation Commission, developers in Dominion Energy territory filed applications for 84 projects to supply solar to public institutions through a financial tool known as the power purchase agreement. Installations from completed projects were significant enough to land Virginia on a list of top 10 states for school solar capacity.

Then came a double whammy. The state program that authorized solar power purchase agreements was halted for several months in January 2020. Soon after, COVID-19 shut down the state. Between May 2020, when Virginia began accepting project applications again, and June 1 of this year, only 23 applications were filed.

“There’s no question that during this global health crisis — which started right as the Virginia Clean Economy Act was passed — we saw schools, local governments, and non-profits shift and narrow their attention to addressing the impact of the pandemic directly,” said Rob Corradi, director of public affairs at Sun Tribe, the most active developer in Virginia’s school and government solar market.

Although much of Virginia’s electricity is supplied through monopoly utilities, state lawmakers have shown an interest in recent years in allowing public authorities to obtain solar energy from third-party companies as a way to bring down costs.

Many solar adopters can reduce the price of installing panels through federal tax credits, but schools and local governments are tax exempt and therefore receive no benefits from such incentives.

Power purchase agreements offer a way around this problem. Under this arrangement, a developer installs solar panels on customers’ property and then sells the electricity back to them, usually at a lower price than the utility offers.

Schools have been eager to reap the savings associated with solar PPAs — and in many cases to incorporate solar panels into their curricula. But regulated utilities like Dominion and Appalachian Power historically balked at their use, contending that the loss of customers to third-party providers unfairly shifts broader system costs to the remaining customers.

While Virginia began allowing PPAs in 2013, participation in Dominion’s program was capped by law at 50 megawatts; when that ceiling was hit in January 2020, program enrollment was closed. Appalachian Power’s cap was even lower, and a contract between the utility and public authorities in its region effectively prevented agreements from being struck.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act eased many of those restrictions by significantly raising the program caps, from 50 to 500 megawatts in Dominion territory and from seven to 40 megawatts in Appalachian Power territory.

But numbers and interviews with two key developers involved in solar PPAs in Virginia reveals that COVID-19 dampened further growth.

“COVID definitely contributed to the delays associated with construction as well as release of additional procurements,” said Karla Loeb, chief policy and development officer at Sigora Solar.

Faced with moving entire student bodies to virtual learning or hybrid models, many school systems put solar plans on pause. Contracts and requests for proposals that required school board approval also were pushed to the bottom of agendas. Few of the burst of applications filed before the initial Dominion cap was hit in January 2020 — Sun Tribe filed applications for 28 projects on Oct. 30, 2019, alone — have been completed.

Corradi of Sun Tribe said despite the slowdown, projects seem to be picking up again. Several public authorities have put out requests for proposals in recent months, including the Virginia Community College system.

“We’re seeing a growing momentum for on-site clean energy in Virginia and have been having more conversations with schools and local governments as they look toward their long-term infrastructure planning,” said Corradi.

In the wake of the pandemic, Loeb recommended that the State Corporation Commission “do a full audit of the status of all the projects in the pipeline to determine whether projects have the financial and institutional support to advance to commercial operations.”

Other barriers are lifting. On Wednesday, Appalachian Power announced that its new contract with public authorities would allow up to 40 megawatts of power purchase agreements, in line with legislation. Under the prior contract, the company noted PPAs had not been “explicitly available.”

Dominion also turned out Tuesday to tout the Powhatan PPA projects, which were developed jointly by Sun Tribe and Dominion’s unregulated solar subsidiary BrightSuite.

“These schools have not only experienced lower carbon footprint and generated energy savings, but these energy savings can be invested back into the classroom where they belong,” said Dominion director of customer energy solutions Todd Headlee. But, he added, “We can’t do this alone. It takes public policy support. It takes willing partners at the local level.”


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