Oil industry sits on 25 million acres, 9,000 permits while calling for more drilling

Mar 16, 2022

For more than a century, the oil industry has taken advantage of a broken and rigged legal system that lets it drill on public lands at bargain rates. Now, the oil industry is sitting on a remarkable 9,173 approved, but unused, federal lands drilling permits. In total, the oil industry now holds leases to roughly 25 million acres of public lands — an area approximately the size of Kentucky. Of those 25 million acres, roughly half are sitting idle, meaning oil companies hold existing rights to develop those resources, but are choosing not to.

The oil industry is cynically using the war in Ukraine to once again drag out its favorite policy playbook — blaming the president for high gas prices and asking the Interior Department to throw open all of our public lands to oil drilling while also reducing the already-weak processes for granting permits and leases. A new dashboard from the Center for Western Priorities highlights the hypocrisy of the oil industry’s push to throw even more public lands open to drilling. The data shows that the Biden administration is not standing in the way of public lands oil production and that oil companies have more drilling permits and leases than they know what to do with. In fact, oil production on public lands is near all time highs, despite industry claims that the Biden administration has suppressed domestic production.

Over the last decade, oil companies have not only been lighting excess natural gas on fire, they’ve been lighting money on fire as well. As of the beginning of 2022, oil companies listed in the S&P Oil and Gas Exploration and Production index had amassed $167 billion in debt, down from a high of $298 billion in 2020. Now that oil prices have risen, investors are looking to see profits returned to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks, rather than invested in more production. In short, the constraints facing oil companies right now are not the availability of public lands or drilling permits, they are access to financing and supply chain shortages — the direct result of years of bad business practices..


Quick hits

Study: coal mines emit more methane than oil or gas

E&E News

Opinion: Speculative oil and gas leasing is wasting Nevada public lands

Nevada Independent

Report: A plan for the U.S. Forest Service to lead on the America the Beautiful initiative

Center for American Progress

Rocky Mountain Arsenal’s journey from chemical weapons Superfund site to “flagship urban refuge”

Colorado Gazette

Storymap: Bears Ears and radioactive waste—the White Mesa Mill story

Grand Canyon Trust

Expediting energy permitting, drilling is no quick fix for supply challenges

Bloomberg Law | Colorado Public Radio

Opinion: Big Oil is exploiting the war in Ukraine for corporate profit

Denver Post

Underrated Arizona national parks road trip

Only In Your State


Quote of the day

”The oil and gas industry is taking this moment to make the point they’re always making, and will always make, that they should have more access to more federal land to drill on whenever it becomes economically advantageous for them to do so and while paying the very minimum in royalties to the taxpayers who own those resources.”

—Ian Silverii, former director of ProgressNow Colorado, Denver Post

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green frog on green stem

Happy 119th birthday, @USFWSRefuges!

Founded by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, the refuge system is a diverse network of lands and waters in all 50 states and 5 territories dedicated to conserving America’s rich fish and wildlife heritage.

Photo by Craig McIntyre

(featured image: Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Center for Western Priorities)