Public Lands Energize More Than a Recreation Economy

by Kathleen Sgamma, President on July 13, 2018 - 10:20am

As published in the Denver Post on July 13, 2018. 

Western Energy Alliance welcomes the Outdoor Industry Association and its Outdoor Retailer show to Denver. The oil and natural gas industry is full of outdoor enthusiasts like myself who love to hike, camp, hunt, fish, paddle, climb, etc. We appreciate the myriad products that enhance the outdoor experience and protect us from the elements.

We’d also like to say you’re welcome. Without oil and natural gas, the outdoor industry and its customers couldn’t enjoy the great outdoors. Most obvious is the fuel to get people to remote wilderness areas or far-away national parks, and to deliver goods to retail outlets.

What’s not so obvious is that just about every article of outdoor clothing and piece of gear is made from oil and natural gas. Spandex, nylon, fleece, Gore-Tex, plastics, high-tech lightweight fills, and other synthetic materials used in outdoor recreation products are engineered from petroleum.

Despite that symbiotic relationship, OIA and some of its member companies are often at odds with the oil and natural gas industry. From advocating against hydraulic fracturing to opposing responsible energy development on non-park, non-wilderness public lands, the outdoor industry often opposes the oil and natural gas on which it depends. Is it a cynical greenwashing ploy to sell more of its petroleum-based products while hoping the public doesn’t notice the hypocrisy?

We can understand advocacy on public lands issues. Western Energy Alliance advocates for access to western working landscapes that have been designated as appropriate for energy development only after years of land use planning that the public can engage in.

Of the approximately 640 million acres of federal public lands, about 109 million are wilderness areas, 84 million are national parks, 89 million are wildlife refuges, and another 100 million are protected under various other conservation designations. These hundreds of millions of acres are available for recreation but closed to oil and natural gas development.

But there are also vast working landscapes across the West that are appropriate for productive uses like ranching, mining, and energy development, all of which create jobs and provide Americans with products that meet their basic needs. Because oil and natural gas has a small footprint on the land, less than 0.1% of public lands, recreation coexists with development. Even though millions of acres of lands are leased for oil and natural gas development, only a small fraction of the surface is actually developed, and leased lands remain open to the public for recreation.

As an advocacy organization, OIA often makes the point that outdoor recreation provides $887 billion in consumer spending and employs 7.6 million people. OIA likes to tout its job numbers and argue that outdoor retailers’ economic impact is larger than the oil and natural gas industry. However, using similar economic modeling PWC finds, in a study for the American Petroleum Institute, that oil and natural gas supports 10.3 million jobs and $1.3 trillion in economic impact. 

All jobs and economic opportunity are to be applauded. The good news is it’s not a zero-sum game. A job in the oil and natural gas industry doesn’t mean one less in the recreation industry. In fact, the prosperity brought on by producing oil here and not importing it from Russia or Venezuela ultimately leads to more Americans who can afford the latest high-tech climbing gear or a vacation to put it to use. 

And an oil or natural gas well developed on a few acres of the vast working landscapes that also constitute our public lands does not prevent citizens from enjoying the equally vast public lands areas that are reserved solely for conservation and recreation. 

The Outdoor Retailer show is in Denver after OIA chose to punish Utah because its elected officials have different opinions on public lands issues. We urge OIA to stop exacerbating contentious public lands issues as a means to sell more products, and recognize the balance that is achieved when multiple uses on public lands coexist.