Report: drilling generates more carbon than public lands can absorb

Oil drill in a national forest in Alabama


Public lands generate about 4.5 times more atmospheric carbon than they are currently able to absorb, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). In short, oil and gas drilling is outpacing the capacity of our forests and grasslands to capture the carbon that is being emitted.

CAP's report cites analysis commissioned by The Wilderness Society, which showed that fossil fuel extraction and combustion on public lands make up 23 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Every year, public lands are used for the extraction of:

  • 42.1% of our nation’s coal
  • 26.2% of its oil
  • 17.8% of its natural gas 

America's public lands should fulfill the opposite purpose by providing landscapes that naturally absorb and store carbon. But with increasing development, carbon emissions from public lands more than quadruple the amount that these lands are capable of absorbing, according to the report.


Graphic courtesy of Center for American Progress


Unfortunately, public lands are also "ground zero" for the effects of a warming world: Glaciers are disappearing from Glacier National Park, polar bears are losing their Arctic habitat and water supplies in the Colorado River are diminishing."

America's wildlands deserve better protection, which is why we work to support responsible development, well-sited renewable energy projects and forest restoration efforts nationwide. 

The Wilderness Society also agrees with CAP's assessment that a carbon-emissions reduction plan for public lands should be a crucial component of President Obama's Climate Action Plan. While America's prized lands may no longer be able to balance our needs, our policies need to.