Ryan Zinke, President Trump’s Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, boasted this week about the results of a sale of public lands in New Mexico to the oil and gas industry, touting that nearly $1 billion in bids were received.
To be certain, $1 billion is a lot of money. But in the throes of his bragging, Zinke conveniently failed to acknowledge a number of problematic facts.
For one, although Zinke’s Bureau of Land Management sold more than 50,000 acres of public lands, the sales aren’t yet final.
In July, WildEarth Guardians challenged the legal basis for the sale. To date, we haven’t received a response to this challenge. By law, the sale can’t be completed unless and until our challenge is resolved. What’s more, if our legal confrontation succeeds, the sale can’t be completed at all.
Zinke also crowed that the results in New Mexico vindicate the Trump Administration’s “Energy Dominance” agenda, where public lands, mainly in the American West, are dedicated to fracking. This is beyond an overstatement.
Here, the results reflect the unique boom going on in the Permian Basin of southeast New Mexico. The Permian is the only oil and gas producing region in the United States currently making any money right now, although the boom is showing signs of cooling. Financial analysts have flagged a bubble in the region that’s likely to pop because of unfettered drilling and fracking.
This means the success of the New Mexico oil and gas sale isn’t because of any Trump Administration public lands or energy policy, and certainly not because of any “Energy Dominance” agenda.
It’s important to point out that at the same time public lands were sold in New Mexico, the Trump Administration could barely sell any lands in Arizona.
Of the three parcels the Bureau of Land Management attempted to auction away in the Grand Canyon State, one received no bids and two received the bare minimum bid of $2.00 per acre. The Administration reaped only around $6,000, not even enough to reimburse for the taxpayer dollars involved in setting up the sale.
And then there’s the climate denial.
What Zinke conveniently fails to acknowledge is that this latest sale of public lands for fracking is only going to unleash more costly climate pollution.
In fact, based on the “social cost of carbon,” it’s estimated the cost of climate emissions are around $50 per metric ton. We pay for these costs in terms of rising sea levels, extreme weather, and other negative consequences of climate change.
In the case of this latest sale of public lands in New Mexico, the Bureau of Land Management actually estimated the total carbon pollution that would result from authorizing more fracking. In an environmental analysis, they disclosed the amount of carbon that would be unleashed from the produced oil and gas would be more than 300 million metric tons (304,159,648.45 metric tons, to be precise).
Based on a $50 per metric ton carbon cost, these emissions would exact a $15.2 billion toll on society. That means for every dollar supposedly made on this New Mexico oil and gas sale, we will ultimately pay more than $15 from climate destruction.
And let’s not forget the oil and gas industry is also taking a tremendous toll on southeast New Mexico’s water and air. On a regular basis, the industry’s spills and other disasters are impacting aquifers, streams, and the air that people breathe.
The reality is, Zinke’s bluster is based on climate denial. The only way the Trump Administration can possibly justify selling our public lands for fracking is by forcing us to pay the cost of carbon emissions and climate change.