In a rush to judgment, some conservation groups place blame for every conceivable environmental malady on the development of Montana’s natural resources, because, well, fear sells. Fear sells newspapers and organizational memberships. Fear sells political agendas and is used to pit different segments of society against each other using nothing more than misleading information or, more often than not, totally false statements.
A recent op-ed penned by a board member and former president of the Montana Wildlife Federation laments that the idea of leasing public lands for possible oil and gas development is a threat to sportsmen and even more so, precious wildlife. In this particular instance, the greater sage grouse.
I want to address the sportsmen issue first. The people that work in natural resource extraction are also sportsmen and women. We hunt big game and birds and try and get in our share of fishing. We too appreciate an environment that is suited for these activities. We hike and camp in Montana’s great outdoors and enjoy the time away from our busy work schedules. We hire hunting and fishing guides, purchase hunting and fishing gear, and support the activities of Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks through purchases of the appropriate licenses. So, stop the “us versus them” rhetoric because we live here too. We ALL value conservation and protecting the place we call home.
I agree Montana’s economic livelihood is tied to our lands, waters, wildlife and natural resources. BLM lands are public lands, they belong to everyone, not just members of the Wildlife Federation or other individuals or groups that oppose multiple use. The revenue from oil and gas leasing and potential production is split with the state of Montana. For calendar year 2018, total payments to the BLM from Montana oil and gas activities, oil and gas leases, bonus payments and royalty payments, was approximately $23.6 million. About half of that amount paid to the Federal Government comes back to the State, with a quarter of that payment sent back to the county where the public land is located. In 2016, Montana received over $246 million in tax revenue and other fees from natural resources above what was received from the BLM. These numbers are just tax and royalty dollars paid to the government and do not even come close to industry wages, equipment purchases, and private royalty payments and their associated tax payments. This is all money that funds education, human services, and other essential programs.
Let’s talk about sage grouse for a moment. The sage grouse is under state management, not federal management. Montana currently has a robust sage grouse management program. A directive from former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke instructed the BLM to adhere to an individual state’s sage grouse program. It is not an easy process to permit an exploratory well in sage grouse habitat. Along with seasonal stipulations, the fees for compensatory mitigation (money paid into the sage grouse program) can be quite steep, in some instances approaching $150,000.00 for a drilling location. That’s on top of the cost of drilling, associated labor and environmental costs, and permitting fees.
If you were to drive through existing areas with oil and gas production, you would see sage grouse, mule deer and antelope. In some areas you will see elk, pheasants, and sharp-tail grouse. You’d also see coyotes, fox, eagles, hawks, ravens, and badgers that all prey on sage grouse. A 2018 scientific paper, Smith et al. Livestock Grazing and Nesting Sage-Grouse, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management and Wildlife Monographs shows the impact to the bird by those predators. Of 495 sage grouse nests monitored for that study, 51.3 percent were destroyed by predators, not oil and gas development.
Montana’s oil and gas industry has worked hard to ensure the success of the greater sage grouse. We have a vested interest in the bird’s survival and have shown time after time that our support of the stewardship program keeps the program funded and staffed. We believe public lands are open to multiple use, and are not just reserved for the benefit of select groups. We participate in and support outdoor recreation. We are a part of the success of the outdoor recreation industry. We too have a large impact on personal wealth through employment and payments to land and mineral owners. We are an integral part of all of Montana’s economic sectors.
Alan Olson is executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association.
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