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New Data: Oil Production on Public Lands is Up for the Tenth Consecutive Year


MARCH 31, 2016

Oil booming on public lands despite downturn; production returning to pre-gulf spill levels on public waters

DENVER—A new analysis of government data by the Center for Western Priorities reveals that oil production on U.S. public lands increased by more than 11 percent between the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. This increase represents the tenth consecutive year oil production has risen on public lands, covering the last three years of President George W. Bush’s administration and every year since President Obama came into office.

“Even with the bottom falling out of the oil market, production on our public lands remains swift. The oil industry and their political allies continue to complain that drilling’s somehow being stifled on American-owned lands, but the data paint a very different picture,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director with the Center for Western Priorities.

Since President Obama entered office in 2009, oil production on public lands—which includes lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—has increased by 62 percent.


The analysis also reveals oil production from public waters is rebounding after the 2010 oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, considered one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. Offshore oil production peaked at 603 million barrels in FY 2010, dropped to 476 million barrels per year in the spill’s aftermath, and was back up to 553 million barrels in FY 2015. Meanwhile, government data shows that sustained low natural gas prices continue to dampen interest in gas production on public lands.

“Oil industry groups will almost surely respond that ‘public lands aren’t keeping pace with private lands.’ But it’s all smoke and mirrors,” continued Zimmerman. “The industry’s drilled so much in recent years that it’s nearly drilled itself out of business.”

Low oil and gas prices—a boon for consumers—have resulted in massive oil company layoffs, with the number of rigs operating in the United States hitting its lowest level since at least 1940. With less drilling, it can be expected that oil production will decline in the coming years.

The latest data shows that protecting America’s public lands and promoting responsible energy development are not mutually exclusive goals. The raw data for the analysis is available from the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

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