Bureau of Land Management Yesterday and Today: Energy Independence

Former BLM Director Perry Pendley writes: "In July 2019, America, for the first time since 1957, achieved energy independence. Sadly, it did not last long.  President Biden began on his first day in office by killing the Keystone XL Pipeline, cancelling all federal oil and gas lease sales..."

William Perry Pendley

April 05, 20225 min read

Pendley arguing
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By William Perry Pendley, guest columnist*

What happened?  Only yesterday, the United States was energy independent with low priced, reliable energy supplies, which came from our country thus freeing us from sending our young men to war or making geopolitical decisions because of our need for foreign energy. 

Today, we are no longer energy independent, we are suffering the highest energy prices ever, the president is going hat-in-hand to foreign energy producers begging for oil, and we are dumping oil out of the strategic petroleum reserve as if we were at war, at which we might soon find ourselves.

President Reagan, after the economic disaster that was the Carter administration, knew energy independence was key to a strong America.  It would ensure reliable, low-cost energy vital to economic activity; it would create high-paying domestic jobs, and it would free us of our dependence on unstable or evil intentioned foreign sources.  Reagan’s basis was not his well-known optimistic outlook. 

It was the result of his careful study of the matter and his conclusion that government predictions of dwindling petroleum resources were always wrong. 

Thus, he faulted Carter, not just for his prediction that we would run out of natural gas by 1990, but also for his refusal to drill for oil and gas in the American West.  What are you afraid of Reagan taunted, that “more strikes [discoveries] will be made?”

Reagan was right, of course, as revealed for example when the late Mick McMurry searched for natural gas on worked-over Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leases in Sublette County. 

Using fracking technology, which has been around since the 1860s, but in regular use since 1947 (hardly new and controversial, it is tried and true), in 1993, he made the biggest natural gas discovery in history—the Jonah Field. 

At the same time, fracking used on private and state lands across the country led to the discovery of more vast shale deposits—the Barnett, Haynesville, Fayetteville, and the Marcellus in Pennsylvania.  So vast was the Marcellus in the Keystone State that, at one time, seven out of every ten new jobs there were in the oil patch.

Of course, the Marcellus also underlays New York to the north.  In fact, because thirteen of the state’s highest producing gas wells are in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania, Broome County across the state line in New York has great natural gas potential. 

Unfortunately, in 2014, Governor Cuomo outlawed fracking and barred 70,000 property owners across a million acres in fourteen counties from using their property and denied the region clean burning natural gas.

Meanwhile, President Obama was doing the same thing on federal lands, including the 245 million acres managed by the BLM, mostly in the eleven western states and Alaska.  Why became clear in 2012 in a meeting Obama held with a few industry leaders. 

Harold Hamm, who unlocked another rich shale play, the Bakken in North Dakota, and was eager to tell Obama of “the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC.” 

Obama dismissed him with a wave of his hand.  “Oil and gas will be important for the next few years,” said Obama. “But we need to go on to green and alternative energy” and then predicted a battery that would all but replace the internal combustion engine by 2017. 

Not surprisingly, Obama refused to issue oil and gas leases on federal lands as mandated by the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 to permit the West to join in the fracking revolution.  Westerners sued.

When President Trump took office, like Reagan, he believed in energy independence, put in place policies to achieve it, and aggressively pursued what he called “energy dominance.” 

In November 2018, the BLM held its largest oil and gas lease sale in history in New Mexico’s Permian Basin, netting $1B in bids, which is nothing compared to the royalties to be paid to the government and shared with state and local governments once production begins. 

It is not surprising that, by July 2019, America, for the first time since 1957, achieved energy independence.

Sadly, it did not last long.  President Biden began on his first day in office by killing the Keystone XL Pipeline, cancelling all federal oil and gas lease sales, and initiating imposition of Draconian rules and regulations to rendered oil and gas production less economical. 

Thereafter, his administration took steps to end investment in the oil and gas industry, including that needed by wildcatters—independent oil and gas operators who find hydrocarbons where no one thinks they exist. 

After Biden’s BLM officially halted the quarterly oil and gas lease sales required by federal law, westerners and others sued and a Louisiana federal judge ruled the “pause” illegal and issued a nationwide injunction. 

Nonetheless, the Biden administration refused to comply with that order. 

As a result, Wyoming, for example, now enters its sixth quarter without a BLM lease sale hampering the Equality State’s ability to discover, develop, and deliver desperately needed oil and gas resources.  

What a difference a BLM makes.

*Mr. Pendley, a Wyoming attorney, led the Bureau of Land Management for the last 18 months of the Trump administration and is author of Sagebrush Rebel:  Reagan’s Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.

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William Perry Pendley