Blind to the Crisis in Front of Us

Outdoor recreation and agriculture form the foundation of our economy

By Aubrey Bertram and Marne Hayes

In a recent guest column, Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, argues against the Biden administration’s effort to fix the federal government’s broken oil and gas leasing system. Citing an industry-financed and thoroughly debunked and discredited report from the University of Wyoming, he feigns outrage over this effort, erroneously claiming that it’s inhibiting Montana from drilling for more oil and gas, something he thinks we need more of now.

The most telling part of this column was Regier’s timing. It appeared the same day that hundreds of residents of Lame Deer were evacuated because of a wildfire blazing across the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It appeared a day after a group of scientists representing 195 countries released a scientific report confirming that this summer’s wildfires, heat waves, and droughts wouldn’t be nearly as severe and deadly without the amount of carbon we’re pumping into the atmosphere. It appeared as Montana’s farmers face the worst harvest in decades, as trout are dying off in our overheated rivers, and as all of us struggle to cope – physically and mentally – with the smoke blanketing Montana from the hundreds of wildfires burning across the West.

With all of these dire and very real effects of climate change making life difficult for so many of us, what does Regier want us to do? Drill more oil and gas – that is, do more of what’s causing the crisis we all are now suffering through.

If that weren’t enough to demonstrate just how out of touch Regier is, he goes on to blame the Biden administration for limiting the amount of oil and gas produced in Montana and for eliminating hundreds of jobs – something he and his allies wish could be true for the sake of political leverage, but simply isn’t. 

The truth is this administration has done nothing to limit the amount of gas produced on public land in Montana. It hasn’t had to because oil and gas executives are doing it themselves. That’s right: If anyone or anything is responsible for the fact that no drills are operating on public lands in Montana today, it’s the industry.

According to recently released data from the Bureau of Land Management, oil and gas companies are sitting on nearly 800 already-approved permits to drill on public lands, but currently are not using any of them, even though market conditions are quite favorable. That means the companies could drill now, but they’ve chosen not to. And that’s largely been the case for the last 10 years. Between 2011 and 2020, leases covering over 1.6 million acres of public lands expired, were terminated, or were relinquished without resulting in a single job or any return on public investment.

But that hasn’t stopped industry from building a stockpile of oil and gas leases on public lands, enough leases to keep them drilling in Montana for the next 36 years at least, according to a recent report by the Conservation Economics Institute.

That also hasn’t stopped the industry and their surrogates (such as Regier) from playing the victim and spreading misinformation over Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing, a pause that is absolutely necessary in order to fix a system that has coddled the oil and gas industry for decades at the expense of wildlife, water quality, our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy and the more than 71,000 jobs that depend on it.

The outdoor economy has the potential to be much stronger and meaningful for rural communities in Montana, if the federal government invested more in public land infrastructure and conservation rather than sinking millions of taxpayer dollars into administering thousands of leases that result in no oil and gas production, create no jobs, and otherwise serve no public good.

We invite Regier and other elected officials to join us in 21st century Montana, where outdoor recreation and agriculture form the foundation of our economy, and where climate change threatens to undo both if we don’t act now to mitigate it.

Aubrey Bertram, staff attorney
Wild Montana
Marne Hayes, director
Business for Montana’s Outdoor

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