Oil and Gas FAQs

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Here are answers to frequently asked questions about oil and gas issues.

Q: Why does The Wilderness Society work on oil and gas?

A: Much of the United States’ oil and gas comes from public lands. The U.S. government has a large stake in making sure that the country has access to energy. As a result, our public lands become a major source for energy. The Wilderness Society works to protect these lands from environmental harm.

Q: Are all public lands used for oil and gas?

A: No. There are many different types of public lands, and the U.S. government determines whether certain parcels of public lands are suitable for oil and gas development.

Q: What has The Wilderness Society done to promote responsible oil and gas development?

A: The Wilderness Society is committed to protecting our public lands and supports the Obama administration’s reforms to increase energy efficiency and environmental safeguards. We also encourage the administration and Congress to find more ways to protect our public lands and increase environmental oversight to ensure that our wildlands stay clean and vibrant.

Q: What part of the United States government decides where oil companies can drill?

A: Federal laws passed by Congress and signed by the President can determine where drilling takes place. But without a specific law, the decision is made by federal agencies. For oil and gas development on land, the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management make the decision. For off-shore oil and gas development, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement decides where drilling can occur.

Q: What are the main laws that guide oil and gas development?

A: The four laws are:

  • The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920
  • The Offshore Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953
  • The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
  • The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976

Q: What are the steps for leasing public land from the government?

A: There are five important steps:

  • Land use planning
  • Parcel nominations and lease sales
  • Well permitting and development
  • Operations and production
  • Plugging and reclamation

Q: Do oil and gas companies have to pay to lease public lands?

A: Yes. Oil and gas companies generally pay a royalty of 12.5 percent from operations on onshore federal lands, a low rate of return that has been unchanged since 1920. Monies received from onshore federal oil and gas royalties are split 50/50 between the federal treasury and the states where oil and gas production on federal lands takes place.

Q: Would repealing tax breaks for the oil and gas industry increase gas prices?

A: No. Reports and research show that the $4 billion in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry does not influence the price of oil on the world market or the price of gasoline at the pump.

Q: What constitutes “Big Oil”?

A: Big Oil usually refers to the five biggest oil companies operating in the United States:

  • ConocoPhillips
  • ExxonMobil
  • Shell
  • BP
  • Chevron

These five oil companies made a total profit of nearly $1 trillion over the past decade.