NCSD trustees dipping toes into political debate over Biden oil and gas ban - Casper, WY Oil City News
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NCSD trustees dipping toes into political debate over Biden oil and gas ban

(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Natrona County School District Board of Trustees dipped their toes into debate about President Joe Biden administration’s ban on federal oil and gas leasing and permitting during their Monday, Feb. 22 work session.

Chair Ray Catellier said that Wyoming Superintendent Jillian Balow had sent a letter to the Wyoming School Boards Association asking that they send a letter to Biden expressing opposition to the moratorium or other similar actions that could impact Wyoming oil and gas revenues.

Balow has joined superintendents and education leaders from other western states in a letter to Biden expressing opposition to the oil and gas policies.

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Trustee Clark Jensen said during Monday’s meeting that he thinks the NCSD trustees should send a letter to Biden on the issue.

“We ought to have our voice be heard,” he said. Jensen added that in Balow’s letter to the Wyoming School Boards Association, she said that the ban could result in a loss of $150 million a year in education funding for Wyoming.

“That’s not a small number,” Jensen said. “I think we should definitely make a statement.”

Not all trustees agreed.

“My concern is mostly that we’re getting sort of into political territory here,” Trustee Kianna Smith said. “I don’t think it is our job to tell the president how he should legislate.”

Smith said that Balow could ask the Wyoming Legislature to weigh in on the issue, but that she didn’t think it was the role of the school board to voice such concerns.

“I personally am not interested in getting into this territory,” she said. “I think that we should focus our energy on how to educate students and not necessarily waste our time on doing something that I don’t think is really going to have much of an effect.”

Trustee Rita Walsh said that she was “not opposed to sending the letter” but that if a letter is sent, she thinks it should include suggestions about a solution rather than simply pointing to the problem.

“I just hate a letter that is without some sort of solution,” she said.

Trustee Thomas Myler said he would like to send a letter to Biden and agreed with Walsh that it should include some suggested solution. He said that the letter should try to avoid being political as much as possible.

Trustee Dave Applegate said during the Feb. 8 work session that while the school board was meant to be “a bi-partisan board,” he thought there was a way a letter could be drafted which by not be “overtly political.”

Applegate said he also thought there is room for development of alternative energy and that he doesn’t see why oil and gas “has to be in direct conflict with transition to more green energy sources.”

During the Feb. 22 work session, the board asked NCSD staff to move forward with drafting a letter in support of Balow’s request.

Superintendent Mike Jennings said he understood the board’s direction to be that they wanted the letter to stay focused on how the loss of oil and gas revenue could impact education funding.

Catellier said that the letter should avoid anything besides how the ban could impact education in Wyoming.

“I understand that we are not a political body and so we are very close to wading into a very political topic,” he said.

The trustees would discuss the draft letter once it is ready before sending it off.

Wyoming politicians and oil producers have expressed anxiety about potential impacts the Biden policies could have on the state’s oil and gas industry, though production won’t come to a halt even under the moratorium.

The AP reported on Jan. 10 that companies submitted over 3,000 drilling permits to the Bureau of Land Management in a three month period toward the end of the Trump administration and that the BLM approved about 1,400 of these permits. 4,700 federal drilling permits were approved in 2020.

KeyBank Capital Markets Managing Director of Equity Research Leo Mariani told the AP that most companies have up to two years to act on federal permits they have received.

Reuters reported in Sept. 2020 that most producers in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin have “a runway of 12 to 18 months,” citing Jake Roberts at energy investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Even if companies are unable to drill on federal lands, they will still be able to pursue drilling on state and private lands. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission approved 490 oil and gas permits to drill in 2020.

However, a pro-longed ban on new federal oil and gas leasing and drilling could impact Wyoming more than other oil and gas producing states.

Wyoming in among the top 10 states in terms of natural gas reserves but the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that about two-thirds of natural gas production in the Cowboy State is produced on leased federal land.

While oil production in Wyoming is less reliant on federal leases, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) said in October that a federal ban could lead to a 31% decrease in oil production in the state. They said a ban could lead to a 36% reduction in natural gas production.