Oil and gas still hasn’t used Wisconsin-sized area of leased lands—and they want more?

Newly released government data confirms that oil and gas industry complaints that not enough federal lands are being opened to drilling permits are grossly unfounded.

The data released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shows that although 45,365,695 onshore federal acres were under lease as of FY 2009, only 12,842,209 acres of these lands were in production.

In other words, the oil and gas industry has in its inventories more than 32 million acres of onshore federal leases that it hasn’t developed — an area about the size of the State of Wisconsin.

The data also shows that although the BLM issued 4,487 drilling permits in FY 2009, the industry drilled only 3,267 new wells using these permits.

In light of this data, industry allegations that the Obama Administration somehow has not made enough federal lands and drilling permits available is patently false: Not only does the industry control tens of millions of acres of federal lands that it has not developed, federal lessees are not drilling substantial number of wells that they have federal permits to drill on.

Over the past decade, we saw a dramatic rush to open more and more areas to oil and gas development, including iconic areas like Utah’s Desolation Canyon, Colorado’s Roan Plateau, and Wyoming’s Adobe Town. Things got so out of hand that in 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that the rush to drill was keeping the Bureau of Land Management so busy issuing permits that it was not adequately inspecting and enforcing the law.

Fortunately, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is beginning to move the oil and gas program in a much more appropriate direction, as evidenced by the reforms of the BLM’s oil and gas program that he announced on Jan. 6. He also announced the formation of a new Energy Reform Team to identify and implement important energy management reforms.

Salazar described the existing BLM leasing process as “essentially a handmaiden of the industry.” So it’s not surprising that his actions have come under attack by the oil and gas industry, who claim that Salazar is unnecessarily keeping them from gaining access to public land.

You can access the BLM raw data here.

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