Federal Government Stymies Energy Production on its Land

About 97 percent of federal land isn't being utilized

A geothermal drilling rig (via Richard Bartz at Wikicommons).

In an April 3, 2013 statement, the White House boasted of how domestic oil production had climbed every year since President Barack Obama took office. Among other claims, the document stated, “U.S. production of oil is rising under Obama.”

Advocates for increased domestic drilling agree, oil production has risen since the president first took office in 2009. But they also point out the biggest obstacle to even greater U.S. production has been the federal government.

For example, the Institute for Energy Research (IER) says about 97 percent of federal acreage is not being used for energy development, and the American Petroleum Institute reports the number of oil-exploration-and-drilling leases in use on federal land is declining.

According to the IER, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages nearly 700 million acres of onshore mineral estate (commonly called "mineral rights"), of which just 36 million acres were under lease as of 2013. The U.S. government controls some 1.76 billion acres of offshore territory, and about 33 million of those acres are under lease. That means just 2.8 percent of all federal lands are leased to drillers, said Daniel Kish, senior vice president of policy for the Washington, D.C.-based institute.

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“The president is telling everyone he’s working hard to lower gas prices. I know that’s not true,” Kish said. “[But] he has a bigger microphone.”

A recent report by the American Petroleum Institute stated that 87 percent of federal offshore acreage is off-limits to energy development. The oil trade association's figures are based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Kish said there are 2.46 billion acres of mineral interest controlled by the federal government and just 69 million acres of that federal land are under lease.

And the API reported that the number of new oil-and-natural gas leases issued on federal land was lower in 2014 than it was for any year since 1988.

“Production on federal lands is a key component of a true all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Jack Gerard, CEO of the API, in a press release. “Or it should be. The American energy renaissance has created millions of jobs, generated billions in revenue and enhanced the nation’s energy security beyond all expectations.”

Kish said Obama is just the latest in the line of presidents to limit energy development on federal land. He said the last president to reverse the trend was Ronald Reagan.

“We’ve literally got hundreds of years of oil and gas in the United States,” Kish said. “The stuff is lying all over the place. We have a couple centuries worth of oil and gas to go.”

Kish said if more federal land were opened to energy development, “there would be a blossoming of manufacturing and economic growth.”

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