New BLM figures show continued conservation and development imbalance

Horsehead jack


Updated figures from the Bureau of Land Management show that there are still millions of acres of public land leased by the oil and gas industry that are going unused and yet production levels on public lands increased over the past year

As of September 30, 2014 (the end of the federal government’s fiscal year) more than 34 million acres of federal lands are leased by the oil and gas industry, but only 12.7 million acres are in production – leaving nearly 22 million acres of land held by oil and gas industry sitting idle.

This figure is down slightly from last year – when nearly 23.5 million acres sat idle – but it still undermines claims that oil and gas interests are being locked out of federal lands. In addition to the nearly 22 million idle acres, nearly 6,000 approved drilling permits (the final step before drilling) went unused, continuing a trend of the industry not using lands and permits despite calls for faster permitting and more lands for leasing.

Another sign that leasing reforms are working, could be seen in the decline of leasing protests last year. Protests of lease sales were again below 20% - down from over 40% in 2008. Our report, “Making the Grade” highlights the continued need for additional reforms and how well federal agencies are doing at reaching their own  stated goals.

These leasing reforms have had noticeable effects in improving leasing while protecting wildlands. However, despite the slight decrease in unused acres, 90% of BLM acres remain available for leasing – compared to just 10% set aside for conservation. This imbalance flies in the face of the BLM’s mandate to manage lands for multiple uses like recreation, wilderness, wildlife habitat, and even energy development (where appropriate).

Better management, through tools like Master Leasing Plans and other methods to balance conservation and energy, is needed to make sure places that are too wild to drill are protected.