Environmentalists urge Obama to end federal leasing; draw criticism

A coalition of more than 400 environmental organizations and individuals planned to formally ask the Obama administration to stop new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans in the US. Oil and gas trade associations and other business groups quickly called the idea unrealistic.

“Federal leasing of publicly owned fossil fuels contributes significantly to US and global greenhouse gas emissions,” the environmentalists said in a Sept. 15 letter to US President Barack Obama, which OGJ obtained in advance.

“Over the past decade, the burning of fossil fuels from federal leasing has resulted in nearly a quarter of all US energy-related emissions and nearly 4% of global emissions,” they said. “Despite this pollution and the looming climate threat, your administration continues to lease publicly owned fossil fuels, endangering the health and welfare of communities and the planet.”

Their call came a day after the Western Energy Alliance, a Denver-based organization of independent oil and gas producers, issued the Fossil Fuel Free Energy Challenge. It invites individuals to try living without fossil fuels Sept. 28-Oct. 4, and share their experiences through social networks.

“One of the reasons we issued the challenge was to try and get people to think honestly about this,” WEA Pres. Tim Wigley told OGJ on Sept. 14. “If people are serious about it, they’ll take the challenge and realize how much this country depends on fossil fuels and needs to continue using them wisely.”

‘Height of hypocrisy’

Wigley said he got the idea after hundreds of people in kayaks and canoes in the Pacific Northwest protested fossil fuels. “Every single one of those boats was made from fossil fuels,” he said. “It seemed hypocritical for people on them to be tweeting from smart phones made from fossil fuels about how unnecessary fossil fuels are. It struck me as the height of hypocrisy.”

Oil and gas and other business organizations were equally critical of the environmentalists’ latest crusade for a variety of reasons. “The anti-fossil fuel agenda is anti-energy and harms the poor,” the American Petroleum Institute said in a Sept. 14 statement.

“America is already leading the world in reducing carbon emissions, and the US oil and gas industry is leading the way through innovations and significant investments in low and zero-emission technologies,” it said. “These investments create jobs, provide billions of dollars in revenue to the government, strengthen our economy, and have made the US an energy superpower.”

Christopher Guith, vice-president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said, “Preventing the development of the energy resources owned by every American will put us back on the road to importing more oil from around the world. Increasing imports is bad for the environment and for our economy, and quite simply makes no sense.”

‘How soon we forget’

National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi observed, “Like it or not, the high national standard of living enjoyed in the US is made possible because we have access to reliable and affordable energy produced largely from fossil fuels. We will use fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, not just to maintain our high standard of living in the US, but bring affordable and reliable energy to developing countries which desperately need it.”

Luthi, who was US Minerals Management Service director during US President George W. Bush’s second term, told OGJ that federal leasing provides broad areas both onshore and offshore for exploration and development of traditional, unconventional, and renewable energy sources. “To halt federal leasing would most assuredly result in increased gasoline prices here at home,” he warned. “How soon we forget the pinch of paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline.”

Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell told OGJ that oil and gas producers “firmly believe energy development and protecting our environment can coexist in a thoughtful and balanced approach.” He said, “In fact, recent advances in technology have led to safer, more efficient, and less costly methods of production, allowing our nation to enjoy the environmental, economic, and energy security benefits of this abundant natural resource.”

Russell said, “Any loss of development on US public lands, which belong to all Americans and are mandated by law for multipurpose use, would lead to increased transportation and home heating costs, lost revenue for the US Treasury, cause small family-owned businesses to lay off employees, and weaken our economy and national energy security.”

Wigley of WEA’s Fossil Fuel Free Energy Challenge, said, “We’re trying to make the point that ever single aspect of our lives is affected—mostly in a positive way—by the use of fossil fuels. We’re trying to get more Americans to think about how important fossil fuels are to the lives we lead. They’re why we have all these conveniences.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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