We have been discussing the Rock Springs RMP. First, the Cowboy Daily had an article about a retiree’s views on the process. Then we had the NY Times story. I’m always wondering about whom the Biden Admin is serving when it comes to making decisions on renewable energy vs. “protection.” Fortunately for all of us who don’t want to read draft EIS’s (without getting paid), a reporter from Wyofile looked into specifically my question.
Undeveloped areas will be largely off-limits to industrial-scale energy projects — be they fossil fuels, trona, hard minerals, wind, solar or a combination — under the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred “conservation” scenario for managing 3.5 million acres of federal land in southwest Wyoming, some observers say.
That’s primarily because the BLM’s conservation priority spelled out in “Alternative B” — one of four management scenarios in the Rock Springs draft environmental impact statement guiding its resource management plan — would vastly expand “exclusion areas” for rights-of-way, hampering greenfield development for projects that require new roads, pipelines and electric transmission lines.
Nearly 2.5 million acres — 71% of the planning area — would be excluded from consideration for new rights-of-way.
That’s a 481% increase in acreage off-limits to things like maintained roads, power lines and pipelines. BLM officials say it’s also a means to inhibit permanent industrial facilities in other areas — a state-owned land section, for example — because they typically require infrastructure like power lines and pipelines.
“Conservation, that’s what’s driving that particular alternative,” Wyoming BLM spokesman Brad Purdy told WyoFile. “So there would be less development overall.
“Rights-of-way,” Purdy continued, “that’s how we [permit] solar. It’s how we do roads, how we do power lines. I think all of those types of things would be impacted.”
The proposed rights-of-way exclusion areas take into account conservation values weighed against “marginal” energy yield opportunities in yet-to-be-developed areas, according to the BLM. Legislative leaders, however, say it’s another example of the agency’s failure to find a balance that doesn’t harm Wyoming’s “bedrock industries.”
My bold. But if they are marginal energy opportunities, why do they need to be taken off the table?
So here is what the Wyoming Outdoor Council folks think.
A close examination of where the 2.5 million acres of rights-of-way exclusion areas are drawn suggests a recognition of marginal development opportunities, particularly for wind, solar and geothermal energy, according to Wyoming Outdoor Council Energy and Climate Policy Director John Burrows.
There are simply higher-value wind resources in other areas of the state, Burrows said, while the preferred alternative still allows for adequate growth in both wind and solar development where industrial infrastructure already exists — primarily along the Interstate 80 corridor. The proposed exclusion areas, he noted, mostly encompass large areas of the northern and southern portions of the management area, where there’s little to no existing industrial infrastructure.
“The BLM’s preferred alternative keeps just under 1 million acres of land open and available to wind and solar leasing,” Burrows said. “In our assessment, this is more than adequate to give future opportunities for responsibly sited renewable development while also protecting the truly outstanding wildlife habitat, wide-open spaces, cultural resources and other values across the planning area.”
Is it possible that maybe the Wyoming Outdoor Council is not on the same page as DOE might be on the need and preferable locations for renewable development (and transmission lines)?
Industrial-sized carbon management projects such as the Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hub, which would pump and store carbon dioxide deep underground, and Project Bison, which would pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in what’s referred to as “direct air capture,” are located just outside the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office management area. However, those projects require pipelines, power lines and other infrastructure that may need rights-of-way approval from the BLM in the Rock Springs management area.
For example, the Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hub partnership will rely on constructing facilities to collect carbon dioxide from multiple existing trona mining facilities near Green River and pipe it to injection sites near Granger.
Trona, oil and natural gas
The BLM’s preferred conservation alternative would also further restrict potential expansions of trona mining and, especially, oil and natural gas development due to the proposed growth of rights-of-way exclusion areas and myriad wildlife habitat projections.
It would “increase the level of impacts to trona development and could result in further reduction of trona extracted via mining activities,” according to the draft EIS. It would also result in a 73% drop in projected federal oil and gas drilling over the next 20 years “due to an increase in areas that are closed to fluid mineral leasing and managed with [no surface occupancy] stipulations.”
It seems like different departments within the USG are funding climate actions, technologies and subsidies, while others are blithely cutting off possibilities for the future use of those technologies and increasing the difficulty of siting. If we are in a “climate emergency” wouldn’t we want to map the potential build-out of renewable and transmission needed first, and then “protect” what’s left? And certainly mining our the minerals we use, and not importing them (from countries of questionable friendliness) has some value, even if they do not fit the definition of “strategic.” Because they provide jobs and tax dollars, and if our environmental regulations are not as tight as other countries’ are, they can be fixed. The point of view of “get it somewhere else” applied to the US seems to me to be economically and national security-wise a really bad idea. And I thought Covid had made us rethink supply chains? At the same time, according to this Admin, made in the US is a good thing, while minerals produced in the US are not, except for some. It’s all very puzzling.
Anyway, thanks to Dustin Bleizeffer of Wyofile for looking into this.