Commentary

Glaring injustices come with the federal oil and gas program

Bennet and Biden are helping to secure a brighter future for our children

July 22, 2021 9:14 am

Oil and gas infrastructure is seen on the Roan Plateau in far western Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

As a Mountain Mama living on Colorado’s Front Range, I am a strong advocate for the protection of our lands and waters so that our children can enjoy our outdoor quality of life for generations to come. A major way we can create a more resilient future, which our kids deserve, is by addressing the causes of climate change head on, which is precisely what the Biden administration has been doing since Day One.

The Interior Department is still working on its interim report, expected this month, on conclusions reached from a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program. It is incredibly important that the administration takes a careful look at fossil fuel production on public lands since it is a known and potent ingredient in the climate crisis, causing about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. In addition to generating dirty fuels and polluting our air, extracting fossil fuels on public lands damages the public land we all own. The extraction process can gravely affect the places we go to enjoy recreation, exercise, clean air, rejuvenation, and exploration with our kids.

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On his first day in office, President Joe Biden began his “march” against climate change and signed an executive order to restore science in tackling the climate crisis, followed by an executive order a week later that placed the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security. He also ordered the soon-to-be-released review to examine a federal oil and gas program that has not been reassessed in decades, including the pause of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters during the evaluation. To cap it off, he set an ambitious goal in his America the Beautiful initiative to conserve 30% of U.S. lands, waters, and ocean areas by 2030.

One of the glaring injustices about the current program, which I’m sure will be addressed in the report, is the amount of money that taxpayers are shortchanged, first in the low royalty rates companies are paying to extract fossil fuels on public land and, second, because companies fail to clean up the wells they leave behind and pass on the exorbitant expense to the public.

Recently, Colorado’s own Sen. Michael Bennet reintroduced legislation that would increase funding to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells on federal lands. In addition, we also will likely see more money for “orphaned” well clean up in the bipartisan infrastructure package that will move through Congress this summer. For good reason.

The Department of the Interior just reported that there are some 14,440 orphaned wells on public lands for which companies in extractive industries have shirked their responsibility.

All of this is welcome news to moms across America. Getting outside is important for our kids, which makes it a must that they have access to a healthy and pollution-free outdoors. All moms want their kids to thrive. We are concerned about the outsized and harmful role oil and gas extraction plays in exacerbating climate change because we do not want to burden our kids with a world mucked up by climate change — a future of air pollution, drought, devastating wildfires, floods, diminishing snowpack and rising temperatures.

Mountain Mamas — a Colorado advocacy organization that works to protect air, water, climate and public lands — are grateful for the bold efforts put forth by Bennet and Biden to secure a brighter future for generations to come. It’s the kind of climate action for which our children and grandchildren will be grateful for the rest of their lives.

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