Study: Energy development can complement nature enjoyment

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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An industry new study released by the American Petroleum Institute found that local energy resources don’t have to be developed at the expense of natural amenities like skiing, hunting, fishing and hiking.

This runs counter to the environmentalists’ argument that energy development tends to hurt a community’s ability enjoy nature.

“There is significant revenue generated at the local level through the development of oil and gas, and that revenue can be used for other projects in the county that can advance the amenities sector that the county is trying to develop,” Rebecca Winkel, economic analyst at API, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The study looked at the development portfolios of 16 counties across five regions of the western U.S. to see how they balanced energy development with developing their natural amenities. It turns out that counties tend to develop all economic the economic resources they can, including energy and natural amenities, because they “understand that both energy and amenity development add value to the county.”

For example, Unitah County in Utah used revenues generated from mineral leases paid for the construction of a display of more than 30,000 dinosaur bones, and the roads built to aid oil and gas development also facilitate hunting opportunities.

Renville County, North Dakota actually markets hunting to incoming oil and gas workers who are being drawn there by the state’s oil boom.

However, Monterey County, California has generally ignored oil and gas development and focused on developing its amenities, such as preserving its world renowned coastline.

Another complicating factor is that many counties across the western U.S. — where the API study was focused — have little control over development because they are on federal lands.

“At the county level, you don’t always have control as a local official over your land-use policies,” Winkel said. “Particularly in the West, you have a lot of federal land, and there is not a lot that county officials can do about what happens on that land.”

What’s important about energy development, the study notes, is that it provides economic diversity to counties which can be helpful, especially if their amenities — such as skiing or going to the beach — are seasonal and lack the stability of oil and gas extraction.

“Energy extraction operations offer higher-paying jobs, while hospitality and recreation operations employ greater numbers of people,” reads the study. “A county’s economic well-being depends on having both high-paying jobs and a large number of jobs.”

This study comes as environmentalists are turning to local governments to ban oil and gas drilling, as efforts to stop energy development on the state level have failed.

For example, environmentalists in 15 California cities have put forward bans to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after activists failed to pass a state level moratorium on the controversial drilling technique.

“If Gov. Brown fracks California, he will jeopardize the state’s precious water system that his father, then-Gov. Pat Brown, worked tirelessly to preserve,” said Zack Malitz, campaign manager for the liberal group Credo.

Activists across the country oppose drilling, in particular hydraulic fracturing, over concerns that it harms water and air quality.

Winkel pointed out that many counties that are developing their natural resources do a good job of making sure that their natural amenities aren’t impacted by oil and gas extraction.

“You find in most counties that there’s this physical separation between where the amenity areas would be … and where the oil and gas wells are,” Winkel said. “There not usually right on top of each other.”

For example, Kern County, California has most of its oil and gas development in the western part of the county, well away from the Sequoia National Forest in the eastern part of the county.

“By maintaining distance between the amenity lands in Kern County and the county’s oil and gas extraction, both are able to continue to develop without hindering the progress of the other,” reads the study.

Duchesne County, Utah has been able to preserve its Native American rock art by partnering with the oil and natural gas company drilling in that area. The oil and gas company pays into a fund to help preserve Nine Mile Canyon where the art is located.

“As a county, you’re trying to do what’s best for your residents, and I don’t think in most counties that means focusing on one industry to the exclusion of all others,” Winkel said. “You don’t have to.”

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