Energy development in Utah.
The oil and gas industry wants the public to believe that it needs access to more of our lands, but new statistics released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on April 11 show the industry isn’t bidding on all of the land offered for lease by the BLM. Even when oil and gas companies do decide to lease, they aren't developing the land they have.
According to the data—Sixty percent of oil and gas leases on our public lands did not produce any oil or gas in fiscal year 2015. This means a total 19.3 million acres are sitting idle and locked up from other uses while the the oil industry pays no royalties, shortchanging taxpayers.
There seems to be a common theme when it comes to the oil and gas industry operating on public lands. There seem to be few barriers in place to keep companies from accessing or holding on to lands once they are leased.
As recent analysis and trends have shown, nearly 90 percent of BLM lands are open for leasing—including wild areas that are important for recreation or too sensitive for drilling. When the industry leases these lands, they have left a large percentage undeveloped and have essentially been squatting on large tracts of public lands—through a tool known as suspensions. Right now the industry holds about 10 percent of all leased lands—3.25 million acres—in suspended leases.
BLM’s data also show a growing stockpile of unused drilling permits—which is a drain on BLM resources and taxpayer dollars. In FY 2015 there was a record high of 7,500 approved permits that were not used.
Illustration by Max Greenberg.
While industry claims that BLM regulations (issued to protect other resources and taxpayers) are harming drilling on public lands, the evidence shows an overall decline of drilling on non-federal lands in the Rockies. Drilling is tied to when and where oil and gas prices will allow industry to turn profits.
Meanwhile, production levels from federal lands remain high and industry continues to benefit from the way oil and gas is managed. The stockpiles of leased acreage and approved drilling permits highlight many of the systemic problems with how oil and gas development is currently managed in ways that harm the taxpayer and our wildlands. Through common sense regulations and ongoing updates of out-of-date practices, the BLM can bring its practices into the 21st century.