When communities speak: The power of rural voices calling for commonsense oil and gas solutions

It’s an amazing thing to witness communities making themselves heard.

This article was adapted from a Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action blog post.

As you may know, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the steward agency for our public lands and resources. That is, all residents of the United States have collective ownership of the federal lands and the resources they host, and the BLM manages these on our behalf.

The BLM’s existing federal oil and gas program is outdated, with many rules dating back decades, prioritizing oil and gas over other crucial uses of our public lands. The BLM has finally released an updated draft rule that modernizes their land management. The reforms represent a pivotal moment, ensuring that taxpayers receive a fair return and that our public lands are managed responsibly for the benefit of all.

The comment period for the BLM’s proposed rule to update the federal oil and gas leasing program closed on September 22, with overwhelming support and engagement from our community and countless others across the nation. Western Colorado Alliance embarked on a mission to advocate for reform for the state of Colorado — and the response has been awe-inspiring.

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The Alliance united over 150 comment letters, demonstrating the strength of our collective voice. But we did not stand alone in this endeavor, collaborating with over 20 other organizations in Colorado to lead a robust state response. What unfolded is a testament to the power of community, the importance of our public lands, and the passion of those who cherish them.

Over 260,000 members of the public stepped forward to provide input and make their voices heard. Remarkably, initial analyses revealed that more than 99 percent of these comments resoundingly supported the proposed rule. This groundswell of support via public comment is a historic moment, one that should not be underestimated.

But the story doesn’t end there. Our success extends beyond the digital realm. In three in-person information sessions held in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, we witnessed an incredible 95 percent of attendees expressing support for the rule, while opposition was nearly nonexistent. These sessions served as a powerful reminder that our mission resonates with people from all walks of life, bound by a shared dedication to responsible land management.

Western Colorado Alliance member Barbara Vasquez testifying to the House Natural Resources Committee. Our courageous members are what makes change happen.

Our voices, your voices, have reverberated throughout the nation, and the implications are profound.
This groundswell of support aligns perfectly with the essence of National Public Lands Day, which coincides with the end of the comment period. It is a fitting conclusion to this phase of our journey, one that brings us closer to realizing the commonsense reforms that are essential for harmonizing oil and gas extraction with the myriad uses of our public lands. These lands are vital to the Western way of life, supporting open land, hunting, fishing, recreation, renewable energy, and conservation.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of the Interior, and the Biden administration for taking these vital steps to modernize the federal oil and gas leasing program. The public input gathered during this comment period is invaluable and will undoubtedly shape the final rule. For years, Westerners have called for an update to these policies, recognizing the need to bring them in line with the demands of this century.

“A resounding 68 percent of Western voters see the impacts of oil and gas leasing and drilling as a ‘serious problem.’ A remarkable 93 percent of Western voters believe that these companies should shoulder the burden of cleanup costs.”

Consider this: A staggering 90 percent of public lands and minerals in the West, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (including split-estate lands where private individuals own the land and BLM owns the minerals), are open to oil and gas leasing. That’s an astonishing 192 million acres, equivalent to the combined size of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming. This vast expanse could potentially be tied up in oil and gas leases for decades, ensnared in a broken system that allows oil and gas CEOs to thrive while local communities and taxpayers shoulder the consequences.

But Westerners are no longer willing to accept this status quo. A resounding 68 percent of Western voters see the impacts of oil and gas leasing and drilling as a “serious problem.” A remarkable 93 percent of Western voters believe that these companies should shoulder the burden of cleanup costs, ending the era where taxpayers foot the bill, which was reflected in the enormous response in the comment period. Our
communities are demanding that the Biden administration listens to their voices, finalizing these essential reforms to protect taxpayers, support wildlife, and ensure that our public lands are managed to benefit all, not just oil and gas development.

The proposed reforms tackle several critical aspects of oil and gas leasing. They increase bonding rates to ensure that companies, not taxpayers, pay for cleanup. These rates have remained stagnant for over 60 years, failing to account for inflation or the costs of modern well cleanup. Consequently, over 99 percent of federal wells have bonds inadequate for reclamation costs, incentivizing operators to evade their responsibilities.

Furthermore, the reforms introduced leasing criteria that reduce conflicts with wildlife, cultural, and outdoor recreation resources. They combat speculative leasing, preventing the industry from tying up land with little chance of development. Not only this, but the rule eliminates noncompetitive leasing, preventing our public lands from being handed away for a mere $1.50 per acre.

We want to express our heartfelt gratitude for our members’ unwavering support, dedication to our public lands, and commitment to responsible land management. Together, we have made history, and we are on the cusp of transformative change.

The journey doesn’t end here; it continues as we await the finalization of these reforms. Let us remain vigilant, knowing that we are on the right path toward a future where our public lands are managed responsibly, benefiting all Westerners. We look forward to celebrating the fruits of our labor and a brighter, more sustainable future.

Learn more:

WORC hopes to spur new federal oil and gas bonding rules with petition

Bonding Crisis Looms in Colorado as Gas Prices Tip Into the Red

Federal Response to Oil and Gas Bonding Leading Toward an Orphaned Well Crisis

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