Conservation Credit

by Kathleen Sgamma, President of Western Energy Alliance on February 27, 2019 - 8:48am

Few members of the public realize it, but the oil and natural gas industry has been the major source of funding for conservation for decades. The most obvious is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is funded by a portion of offshore oil and natural gas royalties. The original intention of the LWCF was to preserve Americans’ access to outdoor recreation, but it has been used extensively to acquire more federal lands. In addition, over $3.9 billion in LWCF grants to states has funded 42,000 conservation projects.

Another is the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the nation’s largest private conservation grant maker. Many oil and natural gas companies are partners and have made millions in contributions to NFWF. Companies also give to the Sage Grouse Initiative, Mule Deer Foundation and many other conservation groups.

Despite the large sums of money provided and the significant conservation work sustained since Congress first established the LWCF in 1964 and NFWF in 1984, the public is simply unaware. Our members often tell me that countless parks, recreation facilities, and protected habitats should have signs saying “Made Possible by the Oil and Natural Gas Industry.” The fact is that there are no signs and the public remains unaware. This is one reason, although there are other societal factors that I won’t go into today, that people frequently say that the oil and natural gas industry doesn’t pay its fair share and doesn’t do enough to protect the environment.

Western Energy Alliance attempted to highlight industry’s conservation work through an initiative called “Conservation in Action” about a decade ago, but found it hard to get information from companies on all the different ways they fund on-the-ground conservation. Companies do so many things to support communities and the areas they operate in, but they don’t do a great job of touting those efforts. It’s in the industry’s DNA. We do what’s right because it’s right, not for publicity or accolades.

But we should tell that story, because we’re constantly bombarded by policies, regulations and bad press that assumes we’re bad actors. And as a result, there are countless ways, from the Green New Deal to litigation against development, that politicians and environmental groups try to stop our industry. 

Federal leasing is one example. Environmental groups spin a narrative that leasing must be stopped to protect the land. They ignore all the stipulations on leases, and misinform the public that leasing is out of control and harmful to the land. They disregard how we operate to minimize impact, reclaim the land, protect wildlife, reduce emissions, and fund conservation. As a result, public opinion is often against leasing, and BLM frequently pulls lands from lease sales to avoid controversy.

But we have an opportunity to change that. Western Energy Alliance has been supportive of the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1225 and S. 500), recently reintroduced in Congress, that would use royalties from onshore oil and natural gas development to help clear the $12 billion maintenance backlog in national parks. The bills would take a portion of otherwise unallocated funds that just go into the general treasury and direct them into national parks.

We’ll continue to work towards passage and be vocal on social media. We’ve also found it particularly useful when talking to the public through traditional media. For example, when environmental groups opposed leasing in southeastern Colorado, spinning the proposed leases as being near Great Sand Dunes National Park despite the presence of a 14,000 foot mountain range in between the park and the leases, we pointed out that the leases could help reduce the $10 million maintenance backlog in the park.

We’ll continue to use that messaging as these bipartisan bills move through Congress.