Energy companies lease millions of acres of public lands to extract oil, gas and coal from them. The extraction and use of these fuels contributes more than one-quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and leave permanent scars on the land. Outdated energy policies are contributing to global climate change, poor air and water quality, public health problems and the loss of recreation and cultural opportunities. It is time to move energy and conservation into the 21st century, with lasting benefits for our land, our air and future generations.
Fight climate change
Public lands contribute to climate change in many ways. Outdated oil, gas and coal energy leasing policies, a lack of accounting for what energy is already being extracted and red tape for renewable energy projects cause public lands to collectively serve as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that, until now, was not recognized as such. Addressing the ways public lands contribute to climate change means modernizing how we are doing business on them. A comprehensive, common-sense approach will help move us into a clean energy future.
Shining a light on the nation’s blind spot: public lands
Bringing our public lands energy development into the 21st century will require a smart and forward-thinking approach. As leaders set targets for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, they must address the “blind spot”—the role that public lands play in climate change. A sustainable future also requires continuing to reform how energy leasing takes place on our lands, as well as seeing to it that our country stays on a path toward a cleaner energy future.
Putting methane pollution in check
As the United States transitions to a clean energy economy, natural gas has become an important energy source. Yet during oil and gas extraction, many tons of natural gas are lost due to practices such as venting and flaring, and due to leaks. Public lands are not exempt from this waste of natural resources. According to industry-reported data, nearly 200,000 metric tons of methane—the primary component of natural gas—were released in 2013 through venting and flaring on public lands and waters. No one knows for sure exactly how much natural gas is lost through leaks.
Land management agencies including the Bureau of Land Management are obliged by statutes like the Mineral Leasing Act to ensure that taxpayer-owned oil and gas that comes from public lands are not wasted. To comply with the law and reduce the waste of publically owned resources, the BLM must require oil and gas companies to implement modern best management practices and technology when extracting oil and gas on public lands.
Addressing natural gas waste from venting, flaring and leaks will also reduce pollution and help mitigate climate change. In 2012, methane, the main component of natural gas, accounted for nearly 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. And the problem is only getting worse—government data indicates that methane pollution from venting and flaring on onshore federal leases rose more than 51 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Making oil & gas pay their fair share
A modern approach to energy development on public lands must include updated fees for the extraction of our shared natural resources. Present-day rates for leases and royalty payments from oil and natural gas drilling are almost 100 years old, and rates charged for coal mining on public lands haven’t been updated in nearly 50 years. The funds generated from these fees go to important local community resources like schools, roads and local conservation efforts. Updating rates to reflect the modern energy market will help ensure that the true economic cost of these practices will be absorbed by the fossil fuel industry, and that the American people get their fair share of the revenue generated from resources that belong to us all.