Broken Promises

Broken Promises

Prior to drilling on public land, oil and gas companies must agree to completely clean up, plug, and fully restore drilling sites once they finish with them. Essentially, they must promise to clean up their mess as a condition of the drilling privilege. Unfortunately for us taxpayers, it is a promise that these companies break with increasing frequency. A common practice is for a company to declare bankruptcy and go out of business under the name it is operating under, then start back up as a new entity under a different name, thus shedding all of the financial obligations associated with its former identity. Anytime this happens—or these companies find some other way to skirt their clean-up responsibility—in results in “abandoned” or “orphaned” wells and the clean-up burden shifts to the American taxpayer. The oil and gas companies get all the profit, and leave you and me stuck with the bill. How big is that bill? A new report by CRS projects that we could be on the hook for as much as $13.7 billion for the 96,000 “producible and service” oil and gas wells currently on our federal public lands. And that does not even include the more than 3.2 million wells that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates have already been abandoned across our nation. This shirking of responsibility by the oil and gas industry is a chronic problem. The solution, however, is quite simple. Require companies to post reclamation bonds in amounts that are adequate to cover the actual clean-up cost if they break their promise—as is supposedly required by law. That law, 30 U.S.C. §...
Protecting Our Atmosphere the Reagan Way

Protecting Our Atmosphere the Reagan Way

Way back in 1987, President Ronald Reagan pushed through an international treaty to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that scientists suspected of eroding the earth’s protective ozone layer. That treaty, called the Montreal Protocol, has been the most successful environmental treaty in history. In fact, because of Reagan’s leadership, the ozone hole over Antarctica is healing. According to NASA, the hole should completely vanish in about 50 years. Today, however, we now know that the chemicals developed to replace CFC-based refrigerants, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) harm the atmosphere in a different way. They are extremely potent greenhouse gases. The most commonly used HFC is 3,790 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Back in December (2020), a funding bill passed by Congress included a bipartisan climate agreement to phase-down production and consumption of HFC super-pollutants. That legislation, which authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slash HFC emissions, passed and was signed into law by then President Trump. Now the Biden administration is following through on that. Its new EPA rule seeks to decrease U.S. production and use of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years. That is real progress, but HFCs and our warming climate are global problems, not simply something we can solve alone. Other countries must follow our lead—and that is where Reagan’s Montreal Protocol comes back into play. Kigali Amendment In 2016, the United States and other protocol signatories drafted and approved the Kigali Amendment. The Kigali Amendment is a global pact under the Montreal Protocol that focuses on the phase out of climate warming HFCs. The United States signed the amendment in 2016...
Lake Okeechobee – More Than Just Your Average Lake

Lake Okeechobee – More Than Just Your Average Lake

Most people probably imagine the surrounding ocean when they think of Florida’s great water assets. Lake Okeechobee, though, is the third largest freshwater lake in the nation. To say this lake is massive is an understatement. The lake itself has a 135-mile shoreline, a surface area of 730 square miles, and contains several islands. Lake Okeechobee—surrounded by towns like Belle Glade, Okeechobee, Pahokee, and South Bay—is a hub for tourism and attracts many outdoor and boating aficionados. The lake itself is an excellent fishery with some of the best bass fishing in in the world. Whether you live in Florida or just come for a visit, Lake Okeechobee has a lot to offer. For South Florida, Lake Okeechobee is a vital economic and ecological resource. It brings in huge amounts of revenue to the region while providing critical habitat for birds, fish, and many other wild creatures. The lake also plays a key role in flood control and the water supply of South Florida. It is an essential water source for nearby farms, residents, businesses, and wildlife. Florida may be nicknamed the “Sunshine State”, but the state also gets its share of storm events that bring heavy rain. Whether this comes from typically afternoon thunderstorms or tropical storms and hurricanes, flooding is an issue that many Florida cities face yearly. The ability of Lake Okeechobee and its surrounding wetlands to collect and hold water provides essential flood protection for the area. Recent years have shown a decline in the overall health of the lake. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has classified Lake Okeechobee as a Class I drinking...
It’s Time to Overhaul the U.S. Oil & Gas Leasing Program

It’s Time to Overhaul the U.S. Oil & Gas Leasing Program

Our federal government has historically allowed oil and gas companies to lease America’s public lands across the West for exploration and drilling. One reason for doing this has been to spur economic activity; the other is to generate revenue to the U.S. Treasury on behalf of the landowners…you, me, and the rest of the taxpaying public. In recent years this oil and gas leasing program, which is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has fallen short on both counts. The process is supposed to work like this: Leases are offered at auction for lands that have been nominated by interested parties. The idea being that these interested parties, ostensibly oil and gas companies, will bid against each other for these leases and drive up the price. That only works if the parcels being offered up for lease have a strong potential to produce lots of oil. However, too often that is not the case. One problem is that BLM allows our public lands to be nominated for leasing anonymously, and pretty much accepts any nomination without scrutiny. This has allowed oil companies and other speculators to nominate huge swaths of land for leasing, often in an attempt to hide which parcels they are actually interested in from potential competition. That brings us to another big problem, price. When the competitive bidding process is thwarted, BLM offers leases on the nominated land for a paltry minimum bid of $2 per acre—which is essentially a big government handout. In addition to shortchanging the American taxpayer to the tune of $12.4 billion between 2012, these practices are also shortchanging the...
Embracing the Energy Market in 2021

Embracing the Energy Market in 2021

As conservatives, we firmly believe in capitalism and the free market. The mantra “follow the market” instinctively makes sense to us. However, to do that, we must understand and accept what the market is telling us. The energy market has always changed over time. When our country was founded, the primary energy source used was wood. Water mills also played a role for a while. Then the use of coal began to dominate starting in the late 19th century. Oil has played a big role as well, but mostly in the transportation sector. The widespread use of electricity changed the energy picture dramatically. Instead of being burned in homes, coal was used to fuel power plants. Midway through the twentieth century, nuclear power emerged as another option for generating electricity. Over the past two decades, natural gas gradually gained the upper hand over coal and nuclear as the primary fuel stock for electric power plants. Gas burns cleaner and has logistical advantages over coal, while nuclear has been hampered by cost and safety concerns. Today, advances in solar and wind energy, along with similar advances in energy storage technology have vaulted those energy options over those more traditional sources in both cost and reliability. Part of the reason this is happening is that coal and gas fired power plants have become more expensive to operate and maintain as they age. This is a big deal, because 88% of our nation’s coal-fired power plants, which have a 40-year life expectancy, were built between 1950 and 1990. The average age of our nation’s natural gas plants is 22 years old—and they...

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