Protecting our parks and producing energy are not mutually exclusive

Protecting our parks and producing energy are not mutually exclusive
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Sometimes you have to do something differently to advance the conversation. That’s why Western Energy Alliance is partnering with Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks and the Independence Institute to raise money for Canyonlands in Utah, while drawing attention to the Restore Our Parks bills introduced in the House and Senate in February.

The bills have broad bipartisan support in Congress because they would provide funding for national parks. Who doesn’t love our national parks? That’s something we can all get behind. 

Our role in promoting the bills has been questioned by some because, let’s face it, there are those who advance a narrative that the oil and natural gas industry is bad. But it’s really quite simple. 

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Western Energy Alliance represents oil and natural gas producers that operate in the West where the vast majority of parks and other public lands are located. We live and work in the West. Like all westerners, we love the national parks and their iconic landscapes. We hike, bike, backpack, hunt, fish and enjoy public lands just like everyone else. 

That’s why we take our stewardship of the West very seriously. Oil and natural gas development has impacts just like any other energy development or productive human activity. That’s the nature of development.

Because of that, we operate in an environmentally responsible manner to minimize impacts. We comply with literally thousands of state and federal regulatory requirements meant to ensure we minimize risks and are held accountable when we make mistakes. 

But we’re also proud that we can provide a long-term solution to fixing the $12 billion backlog of park maintenance projects. Roads, trails, visitor centers and other infrastructure that enable visitors to enjoy the parks are chronically underfunded. The Restore Our Parks bills would take a portion of the revenues that companies pay to the federal government and direct them to national parks to meet this funding shortfall.  

These are revenues that we’re already generating from energy production on non-park, non-wilderness public lands. This is not about opening up new land to development or developing in the parks. There already are several laws that govern when, where and how energy development takes place. This bill does nothing to change them. It is simply about diverting a revenue stream from the general treasury directly into national parks. 

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New leasing and development in national parks is not allowed. This is not about opening up parks to development, something that Western Energy Alliance has not advocated for, and will not. This is simply about using existing royalty revenue to protect parks. 

Like us or hate us, the fact is that fossil fuels provide over 80 percent of the energy Americans and all global citizens use to heat and cool their homes, get to work and school, and power medical devices, technology, agriculture and, really, every aspect of modern life. 

Because the West contains the vast majority of America’s approximately 640 million acres of public lands, many energy resources are on public lands. There are hundreds of millions of acres that are set aside for conservation only, such as in national parks and wilderness areas.

But there are also hundreds of millions of acres of working landscapes. A portion of these lands are designated for energy development. Only after a long, rigorous land use planning process that’s open to public scrutiny is land designated as appropriate for energy development, and then only under controlled circumstances and strict regulations. 

And only a small portion of these lands are actually leased for oil and natural gas development. In fact, the 25.5 million acres under lease now is at a historic low. Less than half of leases typically are developed, and then only a small portion of those are disturbed with oil and natural gas activity, approximately one-tenth of a percent. 

That’s a reasonable balance to help meet America’s energy needs while protecting national parks, wilderness and other precious lands. And if billions of dollars of revenue already being generated on public lands can be used to conserve and protect our parks, we’re all for it. We encourage others to join us in urging Congress to pass the Restore Our Parks bills. 

Kathleen Sgamma is president of Western Energy Alliance, which represents over 300 companies engaged in environmentally responsible exploration and production of oil and natural gas in the West. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenSgamma.