With the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination getting more crowded every week, gaining the financial favor of deep-pocketed fringe activists could make a difference for candidates hoping to escape the first round of Democratic tryouts.
It’s no secret that Big Green has plenty of greenbacks to go around this election cycle, and Democratic hopefuls have been openly competing for those dollars. But for many, simply pledging to uphold the Paris climate accords isn’t enough to draw the support of well-endowed environmental activists, leading several candidates in the field to take extreme “keep-it-in-the-ground” (KIITG) stances on federal energy policy, ignoring key facts about oil and natural gas development on federal lands and its environmental benefits.
As of last week, nine Democratic hopefuls have pledged to enact a moratorium on new oil and natural gas development on federal lands if elected president, or at least restrict development in certain states, according to E&E News. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro have all committed to KIITG drilling moratoriums. California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also cosponsored legislation that would codify Obama-era restrictions on Alaska’s oil and gas industry.
While these candidates may perceive embracing KIITG messaging as a good short-term political move, such a stance betrays a shortsighted misunderstanding of the importance of oil and gas production on federal lands.
Emissions are falling as production rises.
Halting all new federal leases for oil and natural gas development would only cut U.S. emissions by 4-5 percent by 2030, according to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute. But even that estimate seems on the high side; total emissions from production on federal lands fell from 2004-2015, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, while production on those lands increased dramatically.
Natural gas in particular has played a leading role in reducing U.S. emissions. From 2005 to 2017, the fuel was responsible for 50 percent more reductions in emissions from power generation than solar and wind combined, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In the same period, production of natural gas rose 51 percent across the country, and America’s GDP rose 48 percent.
More revenue is coming from less land.
The economic benefits of federal oil and gas leases are tremendous for local economies surrounding these developments. For example, New Mexico’s state and local governments absorbed over 20 percent of all revenue generated by oil and gas development across the state in 2017, through taxes and royalties; in 2018, New Mexico’s state government alone collected an estimated $3 billion in royalties and taxes, giving the government a $1 billion budget surplus for the first time in its history.
More western states have seen exceptional economic benefits from development on public lands. Wyoming, for example, took in $902.6 million from oil and gas in 2017. Montana also enjoys nearly $250 million in annual state revenues and nearly 30,000 jobs created by the oil and gas industry. Colorado’s oil and gas industry supports 161,000 jobs – with an average salary of over $100,000 – and contributed nearly $500 million to government revenues in 2016.
These tremendous economic benefits have all been made possible in part by federal oil and gas leasing. Yet less than 10 percent of federal lands in the western U.S. are actually leased for oil and gas development. And the number of new acres leased has fallen off since 2012.
Just this small proportion of federal lands being made available for oil and gas development has had a profoundly beneficial impact on the American economy, which should be a priority for presidential candidates. Limiting production on federal lands would threaten the country’s current trajectory to become a net energy exporter by 2020.
Candidates embracing economically impractical and environmentally unhelpful KIITG policy positions are ignoring the economic growth, environmental benefits and geopolitical stability made possible by increased oil and natural gas production. We can export U.S. oil and gas resources to global markets, cutting into the market share of less environmentally friendly regimes like Russia, Iran and Venezuela Candidates who choose to embrace America’s newfound leadership position in global energy can work hand-in-hand with local communities to preserve and enhance the benefits of American oil and natural gas.