Biden climate orders put Wyoming in crosshairs

President Biden’s executive order that stops the issuance of new permits and leases for oil and gas drilling and fracking on federal lands will have a devastating impact on Wyoming, the least densely populated state in the contiguous United States.

The Cowboy State, which is the eighth-largest oil and gas producing state in the U.S., ranks first in natural gas production on federal lands and third in crude oil output. The state produced 1.456 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on federal land in 2019 and 101.8 million barrels of crude oil, Petroleum Association of Wyoming data showed.

The 7,550 producing leases on federal land, the most of any state, were responsible for 51% of the state’s oil production and 92% of its natural gas output. Forty-eight percent of land in Wyoming is owned by the federal government.

“Without drilling on federal lands we don’t have an oil and gas industry in the state of Wyoming,” said Ryan McConnaughey, communications director for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

A complete wipeout of Wyoming’s oil and gas industry would be a harsh blow to the state’s economy, depriving thousands of people “their jobs and a principal source of revenue for public education and other essential services,” Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, said.

The oil industry in 2019 directly employed 19,416 workers who made an average of $57,495 per year, according to PAW data. However, the number of jobs tied to the industry is far greater and a majority of those are mom-and-pop businesses which include hotshot operators, water truck operators and other oilfield-service providers.

A ban on new leases and permits would from 2021 through 2024 result in more than 18,000 jobs lost each year, or 72,000 total, according to a University of Wyoming study. There are about 291,700 people in Wyoming’s workforce.

A ban would also eliminate $2.1 billion in tax revenue, $10.3 billion in gross domestic product and $4.7 billion in wages over that time, the study found.

The state’s oil and gas industry contributed $1.67 billion in revenue in 2019 with $740 million going to the state’s K-12 school system. Biden’s executive order would put more than $150 million of those school funds at risk and jeopardize money set aside for other state programs.

The executive order means there will be “more kids in a classroom” and that teachers won’t have “the same access to equipment and supplies,” Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, said.

Republican Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney on Thursday introduced new legislation that would block the ban on new permits and leases for drilling on federal land. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Republican Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming.

Biden’s directive is just one of a number of orders that he has issued to transition the U.S. away from its dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change.

The president also signed executive orders revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and pausing drilling in the Arctic. In addition, He ordered the U.S. to rejoin the 2016 Paris climate agreement.

The orders show Biden is serious about the promises he made on the campaign trail to “transition” the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels. He said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which calls for the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is a “framework” for his energy plan.

But a shift to cleaner, renewable energy comes with its own problems for the environment. Solar fields and windmills impact animal migration routes and take away from the allure of the great outdoors.

“Who wants to come out and see those wonderful Western vistas when they’re filled up with pinwheels?” Gordon asked.

As for the jobs that the Biden administration promises would be created by the shift to renewables, Gordon points to the shale boom that occurred in North Dakota between 2010 and 2015 as a cautionary tale. Back then, a massive workforce moved into a community that wasn’t equipped to handle such an influx of people.

“That’s no different than what happens with standing up a wind farm,” Gordon said. “Massive crew of construction workers, very little ability to meet the socio-economic needs. And then it all dries up and disappears, kind of suddenly.”