Over 44 Million Acres Under Lease for Oil and Gas in US

May 29, 2008
4:33 PM

 CONTACT: The Wilderness Society
Dave Slater (202/429-8441); Dave Alberswerth (202/429-2695);
Nada Culver (303/650-5818, ext. 117); Eleanor Huffines (907-272-9453)
More Than 44 Million Acres Under Lease for Oil and Gas in US
New analyses shows unprecedented drilling boom, tremendous surplus of undrilled leases, and errors in recent BLM oil and gas assessment
WASHINGTON, DC – May 29 – More than 44 million acres of public lands are leased for oil and gas development, according to a new Wilderness Society analysis of Interior Department data. The analysis points to an explosion of drilling on federal lands, with 7,124 drilling permits (APDs) issued in 2007, a new record for the Bush Administration. Nationwide, the leasing is outstripping the oil and gas industry’s capacity to drill, as industry is drilling on only a quarter of the leases they hold. [view the detailed analysis here

“We are seeing gas drilling on public lands at a magnitude greater than anything we’ve experienced, and it threatens to forever damage many of our most treasured Western places if not done carefully,” said Dave Alberswerth of The Wilderness Society. “Oil and gas development is a legitimate and important use of our public lands, but it is equally important to have oil and gas program that is balanced with other uses of those lands, such as protecting fish and wildlife, cultural values, and the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

Summary: Applications for Permits to Drill (APDs) Approved by BLM, 2001-2007

Colorado: 2,909

Montana: 843

New Mexico: 7,606

Utah: 2,955

Wyoming: 18,613

Rocky Mtns: 32,926

Nation-wide: 35,106

The vast acreage under lease and huge increase in drilling permits contradicts the Interior Department’s assertions that it has inadequate access to federal lands. On May 21, 2008, the Bureau of Land Management released “EPCA III,” its latest inventory of oil and gas resources on more than 279 million acres of federal land. In the report, BLM emphasized the amount of oil and gas resources off limit to development. But another Wilderness Society analysis shows that the report manipulated data and was rife with errors.

“As they did with the 2006 version of this report, the Bush administration and BLM again manipulated data to reach a predetermined conclusion that supports the oil and gas industry’s desire to open more public lands to drilling,” said Nada Culver of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center. “This time, however, they have gone through even greater gyrations in an attempt to create data that supports their position, including defining as ‘impediments’ such basic values as keeping our water and air clean, ensuring wildlife can survive, and protecting treasured wild lands.”

The Wilderness Society’s analysis shows that report categorizes as “inaccessible” lands that the BLM knows are available for leasing, including lands undergoing resource management plans and lands covered by “no surface occupancy” (NSO) stipulations, which can be accessed via directional drilling techniques. The report lists all of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska’s Northeast Planning Area in the “no leasing” category, even though the area has already seen two lease sales, with a third scheduled for October. The report lists existing laws to protect clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat as “impediments,” and includes in its inventory National Parks, National Monuments, Wilderness areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Inventoried Roadless Areas, National Conservation Areas, such as Glacier National Park, the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. [view the detailed analysis: http://www.wilderness.org/Library/Documents/upload/EPCA_Fact_Sheet080528.pdf ]

“The Bush Administration keeps telling the American people that the answer to high energy prices is more drilling on federal public lands, with fewer measures to protect the environment,” said Eleanor Huffines, director of the Wilderness Society’s Alaska office. “But recently released U.S. Energy Information Administration data indicates that even if commercial quantities of oil were discovered in the Arctic Refuge, the effect at the gas pump would be just a few pennies per gallon at peak production. And the increased drilling and leasing of public lands elsewhere by the Bush Administration has not decreased energy prices.”

A third Wilderness Society analysis shows that the BLM continues to grant “exceptions” from lease terms meant to protect natural resources, and is aggressively using five new “categorical exclusions” created by Section 390 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to exempt permits to drill from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. [view the chart of categorical exclusions at:
http://www.wilderness.org/Library/Documents/upload/Categorical_Exclusions080528.pdf ]

“The BLM has issued guidance to require aggressive use of these loopholes and is even preventing field offices from considering whether there may still be significant damage to the environment requiring review or additional protection measures,” said Culver. “What this means on the ground is that at a place like Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon, renowned for its spectacular pictographs and wilderness qualities, BLM’s guidance essentially directs field offices to use these loopholes even if they believe there could be significant damage to natural and cultural resources.”

A final new analysis by The Wilderness Society provides more evidence of the administration’s rush to lease by showing that selected Resource Management Plans in CO, WY, UT, NM, and MT would open more than 43 million acres to oil and gas development: http://www.wilderness.org/Library/Documents/upload/RMP_Leasable_Status080528.pdf

The Wilderness Society analyses cited above are all available at: http://www.wilderness.org/NewsRoom/Teleconference_DrillingBoom.cfm 


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