The Need For Balance: Put Conservation on Equal Ground

Jun 24, 2013

By Center for Western Priorities

Finding Balance between Energy Development and Conservation on Public Lands

It’s time to put our treasured lands back on equal ground with oil and gas drilling. The Obama Administration and Congress can achieve a balanced approach to public lands by ensuring that:

  • The conservation of our prized lands is put on equal ground with energy development, by protecting at least as much new land as is leased for oil and gas development;
  • Tourism, hunting, fishing, and the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy are on equal ground with the interests of oil and gas companies; and,
  • Our responsibility to future generations is on equal ground with the short term pressures of a boom and bust oil and gas economy.

Land conservation has not kept up with drilling over the last four years.


The President and the Congress have traditionally worked together to set aside public lands for the enjoyment of current and future generations—enacting legislation to establish wilderness areas, national parks, and conservation areas. And Presidents of both parties have regularly exercised their authority in the pursuit of conservation.

Unfortunately, the previous Congress became the first since WWII that failed to permanently protect a single new acre of public land.

During President Obama’s first term, the oil and gas industry leased more than 6 million acres of public land, more than double the 2.6 million acres that were permanently protected. This lopsided outcome in favor of the oil and gas industry is inequitable to the American people and must be corrected.

In recent history, both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were successful in placing public land protection on equal ground with oil and gas leasing. George W. Bush broke this trend with a dismal record, and the last four years have seen little progress in restoring balance.

Acres Permanently Protected

President Obama and Congress have an Opportunity.

The President and Congress can begin to make up the deficit of the past four years by working to permanently protect 4 million acres of land. And going forward, they should protect at least one additional acre for each acre leased to the oil and gas industry. Responsible energy development can still take place, but in the context of a balanced approach to our lands. Equal Ground is smart policy for today and offers a fitting legacy for future generations.