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Reforming oil and gas leases better for taxpayers

| April 14, 2021 1:00 AM

For far too long, American taxpayers have been short changed as our oil and gas resources have been doled out at bargain basement rates.

The broken federal oil and gas program has resulted in an excess of public lands stockpiled by the oil and gas industry. As Dan Bucks, former Montana Revenue Department Director recently wrote, “Montana’s economy is hurt more than most states by out-of-control federal leasing. Nearly 1.1 million federal acres in Montana—the most among lower 48 states—are locked up in suspended leases producing nothing, not even rent. In 2019, another 1.2 million acres of technically “active” leases—64% of such leases—were idle and not producing any oil or gas.”

This is a big problem for Montana’s economy as these unproductive leases lock up land from outdoor recreation and the business it generates. Right now, this sector is growing our state’s economy, while oil and gas productivity and economic output is declining. Montana’s Office of Outdoor Recreation pegs this economy at employing close to 71,000 people, contributing $7.1 billion annually. In contrast, there is not a single operating oil rig in Montana right now.

Thankfully, the Biden Administration understands that the current leasing system isn’t a good deal for Americans and has launched a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas program. The review kicked off with a public, virtual forum hosted by the Department of the Interior (DOI), to give all stakeholders a chance to be heard. We appreciate their work to create a collaborative approach toward much-needed reforms in the oil and gas leasing process and look forward to more opportunities for public comment. In Montana, we’ve seen firsthand how working together can create better, more open approaches to managing our public lands. By reforming oil and gas leasing at the federal level, we can produce a fairer return for taxpayers, which affects our ability to invest in roads, bridges, and schools.

With so much on the line for Montana, it’s important that everyone has a seat at the table. Fairness, reform, creating a better return for taxpayers and improving access to our public lands shouldn’t be partisan issues, especially when the old system doesn’t function well for taxpayers or our outdoor recreation economy.

Chris Saeger is an independent consultant who works with conservation groups to develop communications and advocacy strategies. Before that, he served as Director of the conservation group Western Values Project, Communications Director at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and has held similar positions in political and issue advocacy campaigns throughout the West. Chris lives in Whitefish with his wife and son.