Oil industry awash in drilling permits despite calls to increase production

Mar 10, 2022

As Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine intensifies, Americans are increasingly feeling the pain at the pump. Amid rising oil prices, the industry has rolled out its tried and true playbook, calling for opening more public lands to drilling and a rollback of environmental safeguards. However, a new dashboard from the Center for Western Priorities shows that the oil industry is sitting on more than 12 million acres of idle public lands leases and more than 9,100 approved, but unused, drilling permits. 

Brad Handler, a researcher at the Colorado School of Mines, notes that oil companies are not racing to ramp up production, instead focusing on their balance sheets and stock buybacks. “As we look at 2022,” said Handler, “what the companies have announced to their investors is that that capital discipline will continue, even though it’s becoming more and more obvious to them that oil prices have some substance underneath them and oil and gas prices are not going to simply fall very quickly.”

On recent calls with shareholders, executives at the top three companies holding approved, but unused, drilling permits acknowledged they are focusing on keeping production stable, buying back stock, and increasing dividends. “These companies will argue for throwing open all of public lands to leasing and drilling [and] reducing regulations,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities, “and to their shareholders they say they want to look out for their profits and their stock price.”

Quick hits

Data shows oil companies hold thousands of unused drilling permits while Americans suffer high gas prices

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Quote of the day

”President Biden’s announcement Tuesday that the U.S. will ban imports of Russian oil and gas underscores the inherent instability and danger of our reliance on fossil fuels.”

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