New oil and gas rules protect taxpayers and reflect Montanans’ love for public lands. • Daily Montanan

For the first time in more than six decades, the Bureau of Land Management has established new rules to oversee oil and gas development on public lands. These common-sense rules make the changes necessary to protect taxpayers, protect clean air and water, and protect public health. Oil and gas companies will finally be required to adopt responsible sureties that ensure money is available to reclaim abandoned well sites if companies leave town before cleaning up their mess. As you can imagine, oil and gas lobbyists are not happy with these changes and are doing their best to stop their implementation.

It is crucial that we prevent this from happening.

These rules will protect our 245 million acres of public lands, something Montanans value deeply. The The University of Montana’s Biannual Voter Survey Last month’s release shows that 70% of Montanans support BLM policies that give the preservation of public lands equal consideration over extractive purposes such as oil and gas drilling. So let’s explore exactly how these updated levels of bonding align with Montanans’ strong conservation values ​​while protecting taxpayers.

As most of us know, oil and gas companies are required to post a financial bond before they can develop a new well. At the end of a well’s productive life, the owner must plug the well and reclaim the used land. However, if the owner is negligent in this regard, the deposit will be forfeited and this money will be used to properly cap the well and reclaim the land. Here’s the problem: The BLM estimates that plugging and reclaiming the land from a single well today could cost as much as $100,000. The old bond amount for a single well was $10,000. Who pays the reclamation costs that far exceed the deposit amount if the well owner walks away? The American taxpayer. And if taxpayers don’t foot the bill, we’ll be left with degraded public lands, environmental hazards and public health risks.

So it’s no wonder that so many well owners are choosing to walk away from sites that are no longer producing; it’s much cheaper to do that. Considering inflation, the $10,000 bond, which was implemented more than 60 years ago, would be valued at more than $100,000 today. And that $100,000 figure is exactly what BLM set as new bonding requirements for a single well. This isn’t rocket science. These rules simply reflect current costs and put the responsibility for cleanup where it belongs: on the oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas companies argue that there are only a few orphan wells on public lands, so we don’t need this new protection. In reality, there are thousands of inactive wells on public lands that are likely to be orphaned because they have been inactive for many years. Developers of these resources will likely walk away because, as noted earlier, it is simply more economical for them to forfeit their bonds. Also of note, these ‘inactive’ sources often contribute to environmental degradation, emit dangerous methane pollution, pose safety risks and negatively impact surface water. Once again, the new rules requiring responsible bond amounts will incentivize oil and gas companies to clean up our public lands after extraction.

Finally, let’s look at how these rule updates impact leasing. Over the past decade, the BLM has offered more than 40 million acres of land for competitive lease sales. Of that amount, approximately 10 million was actually leased – the majority by oil and gas companies. Of this amount, only about 7% generated revenue from oil and gas rights for the government. The new rules, in addition to increasing the royalties paid to our treasury, will place public lands conservation on an equal footing with extractive industries in the bidding process, a policy that aligns with the values ​​of a large majority of Montanans .

These new rules are long overdue and reflect the BLM’s true mission to protect and effectively manage our public lands.

Edward Barta is a Billings resident, a retired teacher, landscape photographer, an avid fisherman and president of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family farming group.

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