Oil and Gas on Public Lands Off-Limits to Exploration

WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2008 (ENS) – With oil soaring over $130 a barrel and average national gas prices climbing towards $4 per gallon, the Department of the Interior today released a study showing that vast untapped oil and natural gas resources exist on public lands in the United States.

Federal lands throughout the United States are estimated to contain 31 billion barrels of oil and 231 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The BLM administers leasing of onshore Federal oil and gas resources.

The inventory found that 60 percent of the onshore federal lands that have potential as domestic sources for natural gas and oil are presently closed to leasing, making 62 percent of the oil and 41 percent of the natural gas inaccessible for development.

An oil well in production overlooking
public land in Utah. (Photo © James
W. Kay courtesy Southern Utah
Wilderness Alliance)

An additional 30 percent of onshore federal oil and 49 percent of onshore federal gas may only be developed subject to restrictions over and above standard environmental lease terms, including seasonal timing limitations.

The study found that in the inventory areas just eight percent of onshore federal oil and 10 percent of onshore federal gas are accessible under standard lease terms.

“America has abundant energy resources,” said C. Stephen Allred, assistant secretary of the interior for land and minerals management. “However, for a variety of reasons, many of these resources are not available for development.

“At a time when energy prices have reached record levels and Americans are feeling the impact, we must find ways to develop those key energy resources that are available to us right here at home, on our public lands,” Allred said.

But conservationists on the front lines of the oil and gas development now taking place in the United States have a different view. They see public land as the last protected land in the country and are reluctant to have irreplaceable wilderness spoiled forever.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, for instance, says, “Utah’s magnificent redrock wilderness is now perhaps more than any time in the past at risk from unbridled oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development.

“Over the past six years, the Bush administration has shown little regard for protecting Utah’s most spectacular public lands from the heavy hand of oil and gas development.”

“Exploration and development will leave lasting scars on this magnificent landscape, including the fragmentation of wildlife habitat, long term damage fragile desert soils estimated by the U.S. Geologic Service at between 50-300 years, and the loss of wilderness values – outstanding solitude, including things such as night skies and irreplaceable quiet,” says the Alliance.

“Quite simply, once these lands are gone, they are gone forever and thus future leasing and development of these lands should be prohibited.”

Contrary to Allred’s implication that industry does not have access to enough public land, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says the lands now in industry’s possession are not being developed.

“At the end of fiscal year 2007, while industry held over 4.6 million acres of oil and gas leases on BLM lands in Utah, just over one million acres of those leased lands were actually in production. Currently, more than three-quarters of Utah’s BLM lands are available for oil and gas leasing,” says the Alliance.

The report is the third in a series of congressionally mandated scientific studies of U.S. onshore federal oil and natural gas resources and limitations on their development. All onshore federal lands throughout the United States believed to have energy potential are included in this latest study.

The 279 million acres inventoried are managed by various federal agencies, including the Burean of Land Management, BLM, and other agencies in the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture.

Some of these acres are split estate, where the subsurface mineral resources are federally owned but the surface is privately owned.

“Public lands have a significant role to play in meeting our domestic energy needs securely and affordably,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell. “Current technology allows us to develop energy resources without adversely impacting the environment or permanently diminishing other non-energy resources found on public lands.”

“With the means to make energy development a temporary use of the land, we don’t have to choose between energy security and healthy lands,” Caswell said.

The new report was prepared under the direction of the BLM. Co-authors, contributors and reviewers include the U.S. Geological Survey, the Forest Service, and the Department of Energy and its Energy Information Administration.

The latest inventory expands on earlier reports published in 2003 and 2006 prepared as required by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 2000.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 also directed that the study consider conditions of approval, which are restrictions attached to drilling permits and to which companies must adhere during lease development.

The report and a related fact sheet are also available online at www.blm.gov.

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