CASPER – Gov. Mark Gordon sent a letter to the Biden administration on Wednesday criticizing a recent order that he says severely hampers oil and gas development and threatens Wyoming’s economic well-being.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the Interior Department’s acting secretary, Gordon said Wyoming’s oil and gas operators faced long delays in obtaining permits and other approvals needed to continue operations on existing federal leases.
A Jan. 20 secretarial order issued by the acting secretary of the Interior requires top federal officials to approve all leases, permits and other applications submitted by oil and gas operators.
To Wyoming’s governor, the order has simply added “layers of bureaucratic red tape to what was a well-functioning process.”
“This backlog exists because nearly every action requires Interior sign-off, therefore piling the burden onto the BLM State Office to process and package each action — which should be allowed to proceed as normal — for Interior’s approval,” Gordon stated in his letter.
Gordon’s concern over the order stems from the state’s acute dependency on oil and gas activity.
The sector funds nearly every level of government. Revenue collected by the Equality State from the development of federal minerals each year has a profound impact on the state’s budget — funding schools, infrastructure and a variety of public services. The federal government dispersed over $457 million to Wyoming in December, all collected from energy production of federal minerals in 2020.
The year before,
the state received $641 million. A significant portion of those revenues go to fund public schools here.
“I am very concerned about companies making choices in the coming weeks and months to move assets out of Wyoming and into other states with less federal land,” Gordon continued in his letter. “This (order) does nothing to address climate change, but it disproportionately impacts Wyoming families and our communities.”
Wyoming’s Superintendent Jillian Balow joined superintendents from Alaska, Utah, North Dakota and Montana in writing a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday, imploring him to reconsider the secretarial order, in addition to a Jan. 27 executive order pausing the issuance of new leases to oil and gas companies.
The superintendents called the recent decisions restricting oil and gas drilling “arbitrary and inequitable.”
According to the Balow, oil and natural gas production in Wyoming provided the state’s K-12 education system with $740 million in 2019.
Howard Cooper, president of Three Crown Petroleum, said he has struggled to obtain necessary approvals and permits to build pipelines and drill wells in recent weeks. In fact, the secretarial order’s effect on his business has been disastrous, he told the Star-Tribune.
“Right now, we can’t get any permits, we can’t get any right-of-ways, we can’t do anything right now,” Cooper said.
Wyoming’s checkerboard of private, state and federal lands and minerals in Wyoming makes drilling wells or building necessary pipelines substantially more difficult to accomplish during a leasing moratorium, according to Cooper.
“We planned to drill wells this year in Wyoming, on both federal and fee (private) minerals that are intermingled, and we just can’t drill any of those right now,” he said. “We can’t pay our workers. We have to stand a rig up and we’ve already leased the rig. I’ve lost that money. This thing just snowballs.”
Ultimately, Cooper fears additional federal orders stalling oil and gas activity will drive production out of the state or even country, to places without stringent environmental controls.
“Let us out West develop the oil and gas, produce everything with the environment in mind, and then over time as we get everything developed, there will be more electric, wind and solar,” he suggested. “But don’t just shut it down.”
Supporters of the Biden administration’s decision to review the federal oil and gas leasing have said the time to reassess how the government manages its natural resources is long overdue. What’s more, operators already have enough existing leases in hand to continue drilling far into the future, they add.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management currently has extended 13,270 authorized leases in Wyoming, encompassing a total acreage of 8.8 million acres, according to the BLM. Oil and gas operators now hold about 7,700 approved, but unused, permits for drilling on federal lands too.
“The secretarial order does not suspend our ability to issue permits or rights of way,” Courtney Whiteman, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming BLM office, explained on Thursday.
Instead, Whiteman said, the order simply alters the Interior’s delegation of authority for some decisions to “allow the new administration staff to get up to speed on the projects and proposals we’re currently working on.”
According to Whiteman, the Wyoming BLM office continues to review and authorize permits and right-of-ways in coordination with the national office.
On Feb. 12, the BLM Wyoming field office also confirmed the federal agency planned to postpone the state’s first oil and gas lease sale indefinitely to provide the new administration with time to assess environmental reviews.