Modernizing oil and gas

Abandoned oil well in Utah.
Mason Cummings.
Much of the oil and gas produced in America comes from wildlands overseen by the federal government under outdated policies and guidance.

Oil and gas drilling is acceptable on certain federal lands. But some places are simply too wild to drill—in these places, important wildlife habitat, scenic beauty and other cultural and environmental benefits are at risk.

The Bureau of Land Management currently protects less than 10 percent of lands for conservation, leaving more than 90 percent open to potential energy development.

Oil and gas drilling leaves a large footprint on the land. Extracting polluting fossil fuels requires a mesh of roads, pipelines and well pads that break up large swaths of land and fragment wildlife habitat. Currently, oil and gas development is one of the largest threats to our wild landscapes. 

Continuing to modernize America’s energy policy will be critical to protecting wild places. Revising land management plans, protecting key wildlife and reforming how and where energy leasing occurs will allow conservation to be in the mix early on.

Photo by Ecoflight.

Protecting wildlands from the scars of oil and gas development

BLM and Forest Service lands are increasingly becoming home to oil and gas development in America. This can often mean real and unavoidable consequences for wild places, wildlife, water and recreation.

Federal guidelines and a smart from the start energy strategy will modernize the way development happens on public land to avoid the most sensitive areas. New methods of managing BLM lands, called Master Leasing Plans, can help balance all the values and resources of an area—protecting the places that are too wild to drill, and guiding oil and gas drilling towards less-sensitive areas.

With a Master Leasing Plan, the BLM meets with conservationists, local communities and other stakeholders to identify the wild and valuable places in an area to ensure that the best and wildest are kept off limits to drilling. This new way of doing business on public lands can help prevent some of the conflict of the past and lessen the impacts of oil and gas development on public lands.

Learn more: Six ways oil and gas drilling is bad news for the environment

Photo by Mason Cummings.

Too Wild to Drill

There are places that oil and gas drilling is acceptable on federal lands—but there are also many places that are too wild to drill. Keeping the well pads, pipelines and roads away from wilderness quality places is a critical piece of the energy puzzle.

The main way to “do energy right” on public lands and protect places that are too wild to drill is to ensure that conservation and recreation are given the same respect as drilling and grazing on federal lands. Balancing all of the values and resources of an area will ensure protection of places that are too special for development.

Learn more about how places deemed Too Wild to Drill are still being threatened by energy development

Leasing on federal lands can be a confusing process—learn more about it

Wildlands open for business

Of the 245 million acres of land under the Bureau of Land Management, only 27 million acres are protected from drilling—the rest are open for business (and not much else). Conserving wild places is not on equal ground with oil and gas drilling—far from it.

From discount rates for drilling on federal lands, shortchanging tax payers, to areas being managed for oil above all other uses, management of BLM lands is not where it should be. Recreation like hiking and biking, fishing and camping, and wildlife watching is supposed to be on a level playing field with energy development on BLM lands. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.

Most of the lands managed by the BLM are open to leasing for oil and gas companies—90 percent of BLM lands are open to leasing, and only 10 percent are protected with special conservation designations. Once land is leased, it can be locked up by oil and gas companies for 20 years. Currently, more than 36 million acres of BLM lands have been leased to oil and gas companies—but only 12 million are in production with the oil companies just sitting on the rest. That’s 24 million acres that are locked up by the oil and gas industry!

Our report, Open for Business (and not much else!) dives into the inequality that exists in the management of America’s lands. It is time that conservation be put on Equal Ground with energy development.

Oil and gas FAQs

Related Content