When your state is discussing which agencies will get budget cuts, is currently toying with making massive cuts to the athletics program of your only NCAA-Division I school in the state, has already cut $36 million from the public school system, and attempted (and was vehemently defeated) to levy a state tax on groceries, one would think all possible streams of revenue have been considered, seized, and exhausted.
Not in the Wyoming legislature.
In January, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a proposed rule to rein in methane waste on public and tribal lands, a move that would annually add millions to state budgets with little to no overall effect on the oil and gas industry.
The rule seeks to address the $330 million of methane, the primary component of natural gas, wasted through venting, flaring, and equipment leaks on public lands, annually— roughly enough natural gas to supply a Chicago-sized city for an entire year.
And unlike other minerals mined from public lands, royalties are not assessed on wasted methane, further compounding the lost revenue to taxpayers. Since 2013, Wyoming is estimated to have lost out on $42.5 million in royalties, and BLM’s rules would be an effective tool to bring in millions in additional revenue to the financially troubled state.
But not some lawmakers from Wyoming.
Instead of seizing this economic opportunity, Wyoming’s rank and file legislators have continued to strut their opposition to BLM’s commonsense rule. This week, Wyoming legislators will meet to discuss BLM’s methane waste rule, along with BLM’s Planning 2.0 initiative, another smart rule which seeks to add transparency to and make more-inclusive the planning and development process for federal lands.
It’s certainly a disappointing move, given that Gov. Matt Mead has carved out a role as a more common-sense governor in the West that can work with all parties around the table. In fact, his administration has led on smart, regional strategies to address natural gas waste and pollution in the Upper Green River Basin – rules that help form the basis for BLM’s national standards.
That’s why it was so disappointing when both Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson and Department of Environmental Quality’s Director Todd Parfitt testified in Congress in opposition to the BLM’s rules that would cut methane waste and add more dollars to state and local budgets.
So, what gives Wyoming legislators?
Why do officials from the Cowboy State continue to oppose reasonable rules to reduce the waste of a publically owned resource while simultaneously putting money into State pockets?
As demand for coal continues its downward spiral and oil and natural gas prices continue to stagnate, fossil fuel-dependent economies, such as Wyoming’s, will continue to struggle. Millions of dollars are on the table. Hopefully this week, Wyoming leaders will start making the right decision to support BLM’s methane waste rule, thereby protecting Wyoming’s taxpayers, communities, public schools, and colleges.