A pumpjack at Teapot Dome. (Doug Tunison/WyoFile)

Two recent announcements from the federal government illustrate and exacerbate the inherent and long-standing tension between Wyoming’s natural-resource-based economy and ill conceived, nonsensical federal policy.

Opinion

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced this month that it would resume federal oil and gas lease sales — including multiple parcels in Wyoming — although in a much-reduced capacity compared to times past. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it is a marked reduction to what the federal government could be doing and has done before. 

Federal lease sales follow a specific process: the BLM announces a sale in a particular area, those interested in leasing in the area nominate specific parcels, and after review of the nominations, the BLM offers some of the nominated parcels for sale at auction. Historically, sales happened quarterly and of the parcels nominated, the BLM typically offered a far higher percentage for lease than we will see at the upcoming auction. As just one example, in 2019, 719 parcels were nominated for lease in Wyoming and 527 were offered at auction — meaning that the BLM accepted around 72% of the nominations. In the most recent announcement, the BLM announced it would only make about 20% of nominated parcels available for lease — and at new higher royalty rates. Nationwide, only 173 parcels will be offered up this cycle, including 129 in Wyoming.

While something is certainly better than nothing, this unnecessarily low level of federal leasing shows that the federal government is more interested in appearances than policy. The Biden administration is trying to play both sides of an issue without considering what is best for America. Environmental activists have decried the resumption of leasing and championed the cancellation of lease auctions largely on climate change and emissions grounds. Although not explicitly cited as the reason for failing to offer parcels for lease, it is difficult to imagine that this was not a major basis for the Biden administration’s decision to cancel lease sales. 

But, the Biden administration also wants to be seen as doing something to address gas prices while still appeasing those who oppose oil and gas production as a whole. 

Oil is a global market. This means that reductions in drilling in Wyoming or other places in the U.S. do not result in less oil in the marketplace. If domestic production dips, drilling elsewhere increases to take up the slack. Refusing to offer federal oil and gas leases does nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or other potential pollutants — it merely moves their source to another country. 

Domestic production where we have more control over safety and emission standards is likely the best option for minimizing environmental impacts. Rather than protect the environment, the Biden administration’s oil and gas leasing decisions so far have merely been an attempt to placate a particular interest group at the expense of America and Wyoming’s well-being.

The federal government, this time through the EPA, made another announcement this week that flies in the face of common sense. The greater Denver area has dealt with increasing smog and air quality issues in recent years. One air quality monitoring station recently concluded that about 1% of the Denver area’s airborne particulate matter originated in Wyoming. This amounts to less than 1 part per billion of particulate matter in the air. However, due to this, the EPA is now proposing that it impose more stringent emissions standards on the states of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California even though Wyoming already regulates its own emissions standards. 

This proposal flies in the face of common sense. For example, the American Lung Association recently rated Cheyenne as the city with the nation’s cleanest air for year-round particle pollution. Casper came in sixth. Wyoming’s contribution to Denver’s issues is negligible and does not justify the federal intrusion. In fact, the state of California contributed around double what Wyoming did to the Denver area’s smog problem, despite the great geographic distance. 

Simply put, Wyoming is not the problem when it comes to Denver’s air quality. The burden that new federal regulation would place on Wyoming far outweighs the negligible change to Denver air quality issues that would come from the regulations. Even if the EPA entirely shut down Wyoming, such that no emissions originated here, the impact on Denver would be unnoticeable. Instead, this merely reflects the federal government failing to consider the real-world impacts of their policies. 

We in Wyoming often say we need to push back against the federal government. Policies like these show why that sentiment makes sense.

Khale Lenhart

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at khale.lenhart@gmail.com

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  1. Carbon atoms deep underground, in the united States or elsewhere, cannot be in the atmosphere causing drought, extended fire seasons, and rising temperatures. That’s so basic, it should go without saying. No extra charge for the lesson in common sense.

  2. Lenhart last week: “WY needs new ideas and creativity.” – – – Lenhart this week: “Let’s continue WY’s oldest pastime, whining about the Federal Government!”

  3. I can’t disagree with you on the goofy assertion that Wyoming air is fouling the skies of Denver, but that is the extent of our common ground . Your take on the formal process of leasing federal ground in Wyoming and the West is mostly half truths and magical thinking I cannot abide much. I would point straightaway to the thousan pound hog asleep in the room …the fact that many tens of thousands of acres of previous federal leases lie fallow. The companies leased the ground then sat on it. No exploration , no development, no downstream revenue from production. I would love to hear you Khale’splain that situation.
    Most everything else your grouse about is in that half truth category . I strongly suggest that oil and gas royalty rates have been kept too low for too long, and if mean old man Joe Biden is only giving you 20 percent of the acreage to choose from , please refer to the above paragraphs on existing zombie leases. Did anyone tell you that American oil refineries are backlogged for production currently and any new oil would have to be parked in storage or exported. How does that pencil out ? It …does …not. Because petronomics is voodoo math not really based on supply and demand and common sense. The price of crude oil has little to do with the actual cost of production above the floor costs, which are way lower than the market asking price after those speculators in London , Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and other trading pits manipulate the phony supply and demand on electronic paper without ever seeing a drop of the oil they trade.

    Republican math and Republican economics are also voodoo. Frankly , I am long tired of the energy industry deception and faux economics that the Hydrocarbon Hegemony feed us and my state government is wholly in bed with. It’s time Wyoming went all in on alternative energy as it phases out carbon.

    1. Dewey,
      The restriction of new federal leasing to a low percentage of the amount of leases the industry has nominated results in fewer new fields being discovered. Oil and gas exploration prospects are generated by geoscientists that map and analyze data from existing wells, seismic and outcrops. Most new plays and prospects these days are in unconventional tight oil and gas formations that cover immense areas if successful. These types of exploration prospects to be economic require large areas under lease. By severely restricting leasing to areas a government employee thinks should be leased essentially kills future exploration. A government BLM employee does not have insight into why an exploration geoscientist wants to lease a previously unproductive area. That government employee probably does not even know what zone the exploration geoscientist is pursuing and certainly does not know how much area the prospect covers.

      Less leasing means less fields. The US will get the oil and gas from overseas if it is not produced here. Why kill Wyoming jobs just to support importing that oil from overseas?

  4. Lenhart cherry picks his facts – the last four paragraphs of his op-ed.

    Angus Thuermer on 2-16-2022 reported, “A 2018 report found that Wyoming was the largest single contributor of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands. The estimates for the decade between 2005-2014, a period before coal companies saw significant loss of demand, showed that fossil fuels extracted from Wyoming were responsible for 57% of greenhouse gasses emitted from oil, gas and coal mined from federal lands nationwide.”

    Lenhart’s “opinion” about Wyoming’s impact on Denver’s air quality ignores federal responsibility for the welfare of all America’s citizens. Yes, federal regulations have negative effects on Wyoming’s economy. Arguments can be made that all federal regulations on the extractive industries hurt Wyoming’s economy.

    Pointing to one or two or dozens of examples of how the feds hurt Wyoming doesn’t obviate the need for Wyoming to embrace the larger move to renewable energy to combat climate change. It doesn’t stop the need to hold the extractive industries to be transparently responsible for mitigation of their negative impacts on Wyoming’s natural environment.

    Lenhart’s piece is an example of how the tendrils of the extractive industries attempt to wreak as much profit from Wyoming as possible. Voices such as Lenhart’s hold Wyoming back from transforming its economy to something sustainable.

    1. Renewing federal leases won’t do a bit of good to ease gas prices. Some fields take 5-10 years to develop. How will that help gas prices in the short term?

      If the need for more leases is so dire, why haven’t producers taken advantage of the leases that are already in their pocket?