One of the major reasons the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 227 this year — setting up the Nevada Land Management Task Force to study the possible transfer of certain federal public lands to the state of Nevada — was the need for economic development.
In a recent interview, Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl, chair of that task force, offered an example of the problems being encountered with federal land agencies that deter the creation of jobs and economic development. He said Noble Energy of Houston came into Elko County and did seismic exploration all over the area. They went before the County Commission and said there are five hot spots in the world and Elko was one of them.
“As they were trying to get ready, they figured out that 90 percent of everything north of the freeway in Elko County is off limits for oil and gas. Then they came in and were ready to start setting up a drill rig on the third week of August, but three weeks before that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) said, ‘Oops, we’re sorry but we forgot to consider the viewshed from the California Trail.’” Dahl recounted. “So they said it might take a year to a year and a half to do the EIS (Environmental Impact Study) on the viewshed. …
“You see how progress and development are held up by, for instance, them worrying about the wagon trains, I guess, that’ll be coming down the California Trail right along parallel to the interstate and the railroad. You can’t look off to the right and see a pump jack or something. Those are the kinds of things that are waking people up thinking maybe we really need to make a change.”
As if on cue, on Sept. 17 a professor of Energy Economics at the University of Wyoming, Timothy Considine, came out with a study called “The Economic Value of Energy Resources on Federal Lands in the Rocky Mountain Region.”
The study included Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada and Idaho.
Considine found that development of oil, natural gas, and coal resources on federal lands are often mired in a regulatory bog, while huge tracks of land — that are home to threatened and endangered species and greatly affect the viewshed — are fast-tracked for use for solar panels and wind turbines.
In Nevada alone, Considine estimates oil and gas projects on public land could generate tax revenues of as much as $218 million and create as many as 21,797 new jobs — as many as 200,000 jobs in the seven-state region.
Federal agencies are making it even harder to develop energy projects on public land. In 2011 the BLM took 307 days on average to approve drilling permits, up from 212 days in 2008. “Moreover, large tracts of federal lands have been ruled off-limits for resource development under a variety of policies seeking to ensure historic preservation, ecosystem balance, and scenic preservation. As a result, production of oil and gas on federal lands decreased 5.8 percent from fiscal year 2008 to 2011 …” the professor writes. “The end result of these policies is lower national economic output and employment.”
A recent article by Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Geoffrey Lawrence also noted that the BLM has blocked energy development for a variety of rationales.
“In early 2012, the BLM was scheduled to auction 75 Nevada oil and gas leases covering 133,000 acres. At the last moment, however, the agency reduced the auction down to 42 leases covering only 72,000 acres,” Lawrence writes. “According to BLM officials, these lands included sage grouse habitat, and the bird could conceivably, one day, be considered ‘endangered.’”
He quoted Nevada state BLM director Amy Lueders as telling the press, “The BLM will do our part to avoid a listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Deferring parcels from oil and gas lease sales is just one step we are taking as we look closely at the many activities that can affect habitat important to sage grouse.”
Lawrence observed that modern oil and gas development — using new slant drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques — leaves a much smaller footprint than industrial-scale wind turbines and solar panels, which BLM continuously approves even though they encumber far more land.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the Chainman Shale formation, which covers much of eastern Nevada, could contain as much as 1.6 billion barrels of oil and 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Lawrence points out, but it can’t be touched without permission of Washington-based bureaucrats.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read additional musings on his blog at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.