On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands opposes a proposed federal rule on flaring of natural gas. Commissioner Aubrey Dunn announced he submitted comments against the proposed Bureau of Land Management rule and blamed slow approval of permits for much of the flaring that occurs. Dunn also slammed a conservation group over ads airing on New Mexico TV that support the BLM proposal, calling the ads “all hat and no cattle.”
The group is the Western Values Project. “An out of state special interest group, the so-called ‘Western Values Project’, is spending over $100,000 on TV ads in New Mexico urging BLM to stop venting and flaring,” Dunn said. “In reality, BLM itself has caused a significant amount of venting and flaring on federal and tribal lands because of delays in approving permits and rights-of-way for gas gathering lines.
Chris Saeger is the director of the Western Values Project. In a recent Farmington Daily Times story, Wally Drangmeister of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association tried to downplay how many millions of dollars in tax revenue his members were costing the State of New Mexico by inferring it’s slightly fewer millions of dollars. According to our 2014 Western Values Project Up in Flames report, American taxpayers will lose upwards of $800 million in oil and gas royalty revenue due to wasted natural gas from venting and flaring alone on public lands. Our report is likely conservative because we did not include leaky equipment and pipelines – another major source of natural gas waste. Our projections were based on a cost of $4.24 per Mcf (thousand cubic feet) of natural gas because that was the cost estimate the U.S. Energy Information Administration was using for its forecasting at the time.
Chris Saeger is the director of the Western Values Project. Every year, oil and gas companies waste enough natural gas on public lands through venting, flaring, and leaks to fill the needs of a major American city like Albuquerque for years: They literally burn perfectly good natural gas into the atmosphere without paying a royalty on a resource that could be sold on the open market, where it could heat homes and create jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently put forward a rule to combat this wasteful practice and make sure the American people get an honest return on this public resource. Now that the dust has settled from the recent public hearings in New Mexico and throughout the West on this issue, we have the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the industry arguments for why they oppose being accountable for wasting a resource owned by all American taxpayers. First of all, keep in mind that despite the hearing being held in the industry stronghold of Farmington and the local oil and gas companies’ efforts to bus in supporters, positive comments supporting the BLM’s sensible rules actually outweighed opposition by about two to one. However, at the front of the opposition line at the Farmington hearing was the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA).