Nevada being denied right to join energy boom

A radical environmental group is trying to block Nevadans from accessing untapped energy potential on their own lands. The Center for Biological Diversity recently lodged a formal complaint against the Bureau of Land Management over an upcoming lease sale in Nevada that would unlock some of the state’s valuable energy resources. If history is any guide, the BLM will be happy to oblige.

Bean-counting bureaucrats at the BLM keep more than 81 percent of Nevada’s lands under lock and key, restricting development to the sliver not under federal control. For the feds, it’s all about power — control the keys, control the kingdom. For the rest of us, limiting investment and development on valuable Western lands deprives Westerners and all Americans of vast economic potential, especially energy production.

The feds should have turned over the keys a long time ago. A recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service underscores just how much Western states are missing out on America’s energy bonanza. Between 2009 and 2013, oil and natural gas production soared on state and private lands by 61 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Over the same period on federal lands, oil production declined 6 percent, while natural gas output dropped 29 percent.

Regulatory morass explains why it is so much more burdensome for entrepreneurs to do business with the federal government. In 2012, it took 228 days for the BLM to process a permit to drill on federal lands, up from 154 days in 2005 — a 48 percent jump, according to the Institute for Energy Research. By comparison, it took North Dakota just 10 days to process similar permits to drill on state lands. The longer it takes companies to get a permit to drill, the less likely they are to drill. Time is money, after all.

It’s not a question of limited resources, but of political preferences. Even as the BLM slow-walks oil and gas permits, it fast-tracks green energy projects. The BLM recently designated more than 50 million acres of public lands in Nevada for solar development. In fact, the agency’s “Proposed Solar Energy Zones” set aside 70 percent of Nevada’s lands for solar energy projects.

Like the BLM, environmental activists support using public lands to boost green energy, but not for oil and gas development. The Sierra Club urges the BLM to allow “no new fracking on federal lands.” Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council has called on the BLM to “maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy development” as “solutions to limiting harmful fracking activities” on federal lands.

Oil and gas production is declining on federal lands amid the largest energy boom in U.S. history. Thanks to technological advancements in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, America has become the world’s largest combined oil and gas producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. But this boom is occurring only on lands not controlled by federal bureaucrats.

The truth is that the BLM and radical environmentalists have prevented Western states from reaping enormous economic benefits. A recent study from professor Timothy Considine found that seven Western states — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada and Idaho — would have gained between $9.5 billion and $26 billion in annual gross regional product, between $2.4 billion and $5.1 billion in annual tax revenue, and between 67,000 and 208,000 regional jobs. That is, if it weren’t for the de facto moratorium on domestic energy production.

Adding insult to injury for Westerners, the BLM is considering first-ever federal regulations on hydraulic fracturing. This is wrongheaded for at least two reasons: First, hydraulic fracturing has been employed safely for more than 60 years on more than 1 million wells. Second, states already regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands within their borders. For their part, the NRDC said the rules “don’t go far enough,” while the Sierra Club panned the proposal as “woefully inadequate.”

Who’s to say bureaucrats in Washington can do a better job regulating than those with local knowledge and personal investment? Or, as Nevada rancher J.J. Goicoechea recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “We need that flexibility. I’m sorry. Nobody knows better than us — not some kid that went to school that came out with a range specialist degree.”

Anastasia Swearingen is a senior research analyst for the Environmental Policy Alliance, a project of the nonprofit Center for Organizational Research and Education.