NEW POLL: Wasted Energy on American Public Lands, Clear Loser in Energy Heavy States


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As consumers ready their homes for the cold winter months, an overwhelming majority of likely voters in four top energy-producing states now support efforts to limit the wasteful practice of venting and flaring natural gas on public lands across the country.

Almost 70% of likely voters in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Utah “support a rule that would require oil companies to significantly reduce the amount of natural gas they release or burn off into the air when they extract oil from public lands,” according to a new survey. Such widespread popularity comes with the support of 80% of Democrats, 72% of Independents and 57% of Republicans. Overall, only 20% are opposed.

“Limiting the wasteful practice of venting and flaring natural gas is one issue where Washington can take action without worrying about the politics,” Western Values Project director Ross Lane says. “Voters in both parties understand that we should be using the energy from our public lands, not losing it.”

The findings echo many of the concerns expressed during the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recent series of public listening sessions on the issue. Virtually all (95%) agree that it’s an important priority that “oil companies don’t damage the air we breathe, the water we rely on, and the land owned by the American public.” And despite industry rhetoric, the survey shows that a clear majority believe “drilling for oil and gas must be tightly regulated to ensure it is done safely.”

Despite the high home-heating costs felt by consumers last winter and international disputes over key energy resources, oil companies wasted enough taxpayer-owned energy on public lands to meet the needs of a city the size of Los Angeles or Chicago for an entire year, a sentiment that clearly resonated with those surveyed. Last year, between 111.8 and 133.1 million mcf1 of natural gas produced on federal public lands – if not more – was vented or flared off into the atmosphere before it ever found its way into the energy market.

The survey also reveals that 93% of voters believe that it’s an important priority that “companies pay their fair share to taxpayers for the resources they take from public lands.”  Despite the fact that taxpayers own the energy, they still stand to lose about $800 million over the next decade due to venting and flaring on public lands. And loopholes in the regulations allow oil companies to evade $54-$64 million in royalty payments annually that fund federal, state and local needs.

Support for a rule to reduce energy waste on public lands tops 65% in each of the four states. North Dakota, where 83% of likely voters were aware of the venting and flaring issue, had the highest level of support for strong regulations at 76%. So it’s no surprise that North Dakota has moved rapidly to adopt state rules to address the problem. States like Colorado and Utah have also sought to curb the practice through broader air quality rules, but none of these state regulations would apply to federal land, leaving a glaring loophole in state efforts to curb wasted energy.

“If folks really knew what was happening on the public lands, they’d be calling for an end to all the waste,” added Lane. “If we really want to be an energy-independent nation, we’ve got to have strong policies in place that put American energy to use, not allow it to simply go up in flames.”

Since nearly 16% of homes rely on propane for home heating, and another 26% rely on natural gas, energy waste issues are of increasing significance to western voters. Utah is already taking the first steps with new processing plants that promise to cut gas waste in half by 2016. And in North Dakota, the state rules seek to decrease 90% of the gas that oil drillers are currently wasting away, gas that could otherwise be captured and put to use.

Benenson Strategy Group conducted the survey with 750 likely voters across the four states, from September 2nd to September 7th, 2014. A summary of the findings, found at this link, makes it clear that both parties want a change of policy when it comes to venting and flaring gas on public lands.

The poll was sponsored by the Western Values Project.

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