Task Force moves forward in transfer of public lands
Casper – The Oct. 31 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Task Force on the Transfer of Public Lands yielded information on the legal authority to transfer public lands, as well as the importance of transferring such lands to state holding.
“The purpose of today is to continue to take testimony about public lands,” said Chairman Senator Eli Bebout at the meeting.
Co-chairman Representative David Miller added, “The Gillette meeting in June was informational, and we took testimony from a number of people. Today, we want to answer two basic questions: what are the legal issues, and what would it cost the state of Wyoming?”
Utah Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton testified during the meeting regarding the long legal precedent and history involving public lands.
During the 1800s, Rampton noted that each time the question of what to do with public lands was raised, the federal government clearly demonstrated a policy of disposal of public lands.
“I believe that everything we look at in the historical context with all the enabling acts is going to recognize that, at the time states were admitted to the Union, it was the intent of both the federal government and the state government that the public lands would be disposed of,” he said.
Rampton added, “The question now is, does the federal government have the right to simply walk away from that?”
However, Rampton further noted that the legal aspect of the question is also coupled with a political side.
“There has to be dialogue among the states and the federal government,” said Rampton. “The practical realities need to be identified and measured.”
Currently, he noted that the state of Utah is in the process of conducting an economic analysis on the transfer of public lands.
“We need to know what we have and what it looks like, where the lands are and where the resources are,” he said. “We need to know the existing interests, mineral leases, grazing leases and other interests.”
Revenue considerations are also important in the political aspect of the discussion, Rampton noted.
“What do the revenues look like if we get the public lands?” he asked. “How much revenue will they generate, and what are the expenses going to be?”
With the never-ending list of questions present, Rampton said he anticipates the study will shed some more light on the situation.
Timothy Considine with the University of Wyoming recently conducted a study to look at some of the potential economic impacts of a transfer of public lands.
His research focused on the seven state region including Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
“If we look at the bottom line, oil production on federal lands have increased since 1900,” Considine said. “There is a much sharper increase in the seven state region of oil production on private land – almost double.”
For natural gas, while production on private lands has remained level, federal land production has decreased.
In Wyoming specifically, crude oil production on federal land has declined 1.7 percent on public lands, but increased by 28.9 percent on private land over that time period. Similar trends can be seen in dry gas production.
Because regulations are egregious and permitting times are very long, Considine and operators alike noted that the costs of waiting are high.
“If we look at a medium-level scenario, which I consider a reasonable guess for what could happen if the regulators would allow projects to go through and Wyoming ramped up oil and gas production, the increase could generate $5.5 billion in additional gross state revenue, add 34,000 job equivalents and contribute $1.8 billion in taxes and royalties,” he explained.
However, he added that current regulatory restrictions on federal lands prohibit such development.
“Wyoming is most affected by this issue of energy development on federal lands,” Considine said. “We are seeing lots of lost opportunities from not being able to go in and find out what is under the ground.”
Though the developments would be expected to occur at some time, he further noted that the cost of delay is also significant – reaching $12 billion over 10 years at a six percent risk-adjusted rate.
Because of delays, market factors change significantly, and expenses accrue.
“These are just the costs from delay,” Considine said. “This doesn’t include the fact that we wouldn’t have the infrastructure in place to foster additional investments in the future.”
In moving forward, Senator Larry Hicks asked about what strategies would be most beneficial moving forward.
“There is so much strategy involved,” he commented.
Rampton answered, “Right now we are trying to bring everyone on board, and I think that is the most important thing right now.”
Since the Oct. 31 meeting marked the last meeting of the task force, committee members decided to draft a bill that would perpetuate the committee’s activities, specifically by creating a select committee for four years.
The bill included direction to work on establishing a consensus for whether public lands should be transferred with all interested parties throughout the state, as well as within state government.
“We will find opposition,” commented Senator John Schiffer. “We also need to define what we want to get from the federal government, whether we will end up with minerals or surface or both.”
Criteria to start defining the objectives of management of the land will also be important.
Lastly, the bill will include language to allow for the resources to hire a consultant to pull together legal information.
“We don’t want these efforts to die,” commented Bebout. “The enormity of this task is obvious.”