Shared from the 7/18/2019 The Denver Post eEdition
By Judith Kohler The Denver Post
Public lands in Colorado and across the West could make climate change worse if oil and gas leases recently sold by federal land managers start producing and emitting millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report by a national environmental organization.
The report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society says the Trump administration’s pursuit of “energy dominance” by making energy production a priority on public lands threatens to undermine efforts by the state of Colorado and others to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases driving climate change. It looks at oil and gas leases sold on federally managed public lands from January 2017 through April 2019 and, based on different development scenarios using federal data and modeling methods, projects the estimated emissions over the life of the operations.
In Colorado, oil and gas production on the 171,228 acres leased during the time could generate from 14.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to 184 million metric tons, depending on the amount of drilling. Leases sold on 7.2 million acres of federally managed public lands and waters nationwide could produce between 854 million metric tons and 4.7 billion metric tons, The Wilderness Society said.
“The existing leases from the Trump administration conservatively would be roughly the equivalent or more of the European Union 28 nations’ emissions” for a year, said Jim Ramey, the organization’s state director. “For us, our public lands need to be part of the climate solution and not part of the problem.”
The president of an industry trade association called the report’s projections “back of the envelope calculations not based on reality.” Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance said in an email that federal lands account for a fraction of the country’s oil and natural gas production, so equating it with EU countries is a flawed analysis.
Sgamma also contended that The Wilderness Society is exaggerating the amount of leasing on federal lands, which she said is merely returning to levels similar to those at the beginning of the Obama administration.
However, a May 14 statement by the White House titled “President Donald J. Trump is Unleashing American Energy Dominance” refers to federal oil and gas lease sales generating “a record-shattering $1.1 billion in revenue.”
The Wilderness Society points to a U.S. Geological Survey study that found from 2005 to 2014, emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands accounted for, on average, 23.7 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions nationwide.
Now, the environmental organization said, the Trump administration is trying to downplay the effects of leasing and other activities on climate change by rolling back Obama-era guidance on review of federal projects.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to analyze the environmental impact of proposed federal actions.
Sgamma said the charge that the Trump administration isn’t analyzing effects on climate change “is just flat out false.” She said the Western Energy Alliance is involved in a case challenging leases from the last two years of the Obama administration in which a court ruled the analysis was inadequate and which the Trump administration had to redo.
In Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees development of all minerals on all federally managed lands and waters, has started analyzing potential emissions for individual lease sales, BLM spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said in an email. New Colorado laws passed during the legislative session that ended in May directs state agencies to minimize climate-changing emissions and set statewide goals for reducing carbon emissions. One new law sets the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent or more from 2005 levels — 125 million metric tons — by 2050.
Another law, Senate Bill 19-181, overhauls how oil and gas development is managed by prioritizing the protection of public health and safety, the environment and wildlife. State health officials are writing new rules to tighten monitoring and control of emissions from oil and gas sites.
“Right now we have the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management continuing to push this energy-dominance agenda that would lock public lands in as part of the problem for a long time to come,” Ramey said. “Meanwhile, we have Colorado doing the exact opposite, moving in the direction of reforming how oil and gas are managed to prioritize protecting public health, safety and welfare and setting those bold goals to reduce climate pollution.”
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution has been “a top priority of this administration since day one,” Gov. Jared Polis’ office said in an email Tuesday.
“This work extends to looking at opportunities to reduce emissions, wherever they come from, in order to protect our environment and the health and safety of our communities.”
John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said he had not reviewed The Wilderness Society’s calculations of emissions. But he noted that the BLM estimates emissions would increase 27 percent under one of its newly updated management plans that foresees opening more of western Colorado to drilling. The prospect of rising greenhouse gas emissions will be difficult to square with “the large decreases we need to achieve to protect the public health, welfare and environment in Colorado,” Putnam said. The state will continue to work with the BLM on a number of issues, he said. “Whether someone is putting a well on public or private lands, it is still subject to our regulations,” Putnam said.