Analysis shows Big Oil holds nearly half of federal drilling leases

Aug 8, 2023

An analysis conducted by Accountable.US comparing Bureau of Land Management leasing data with oil majors’ Securities and Exchange Commission filings shows that just 21 companies hold nearly half of all federal oil and gas leases. This finding is the result of identifying the connection between those companies and 300 smaller subsidiaries, a practice that is common within the industry that has the affect of hiding the true number of federally leased acres that are controlled by large oil companies.

The analysis further shows that three of the largest U.S. oil companies, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum hold nearly 16 percent of federal leases when their subsidiaries are counted. For example, ExxonMobil holds 2,093 federal leases totaling more than 450,208 acres, and it does so through 25 subsidiary companies. However, a search for “ExxonMobil” in BLM leasing data shows a much lower tally: 105 leases across two companies, totaling about 29,630 acres.

“It’s not just a matter of who is drilling the most land, it’s who’s drilling the most land that belongs to 300 million Americans,” said Chris Marshall, research manager for environment and energy at Accountable.US. Marshall also says that because oil majors own so many federal leases, they’ve been benefitting the most from the current low levels of bonding and royalty fees that have not been updated in decades while the industry collects record profits due to the instability caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In July, the Interior Department proposed rules that would increase bonding requirements for new wells, raise royalty rates for drilling on public lands, and increase minimum bids for obtaining new leases. Marshall says the BLM’s proposed rules would help ensure companies pay a fair share for using public lands, and that it’s important for the public to understand how many leases and federal acres the larger companies use. “You’re not going to find that information in Exxon’s SEC filings. It’s eye-opening and sort of puts into perspective who benefits the most from the oil and gas we own as taxpayers,” he said.

Biden to designate new Grand Canyon national monument today

President Joe Biden is traveling to Arizona this morning and will use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate a national monument on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument. The monument proposal is led by the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition with the intention to protect nearby communities and the environment from the threat of new uranium mining. The president is expected to make the announcement from the Red Butte Airfield, which is on the way to the Grand Canyon through the Kaibab National Forest. Today’s announcement marks the fifth national monument created by President Biden and will conserve nearly 1 million acres sacred to Tribal nations and Indigenous peoples and advance the administration’s climate and conservation agenda.

Quick hits

Biden to designate Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni — Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

New York Times | E&E News | White House Fact Sheet | Associated Press | Arizona Republic | CNN | CBS News | Deseret News | The Hill | HuffPost | National Geographic | NBC News | NPR | Reuters | Roll Call | Washington Post | Wall Street Journal

New Mexico nuclear waste site used to generate renewable energy

Carlsbad Current-Argus

Western states’ budgets, industries, and wildlife all rely on federal lands

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Wolverines could return to Colorado as climate change shrinks habitat

Denver Post

California’s Joshua trees are burning fast and may be impossible to replace

Los Angeles Times

Judge upholds Interior’s leasing pause in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

E&E News

Analysis shows Big Oil holds majority of federal drilling leases

E&E News | Accountable.US report

Why is it called Capitol Reef National Park if there’s no reef?

The Hill

Quote of the day

The reality is that Joshua trees are already in a state of decline because of global warming and increasing frequency of drought. And then on top of that, you throw on a fire like the York fire, and these trees are not likely to recover in our lifetime. In fact, I can say with the utmost certainty that the areas that burn—whether it’s Joshua trees or other plants—will never look the same in the next couple of generations, if not longer.”

—James Cornett, ecologist who specializes in Joshua trees, Los Angeles Times

Picture This

A fiery sunset lights up the sky while a soap tree yucca contrasts the stark white sand dunes.


The dunes at @whitesandsnps are constantly shifting and changing, creating a unique and mesmerizing environment. The brilliant white gypsum sands make a surreal and breathtaking setting, especially during the sunrise and sunset when the light reflects off the dunes, painting the landscape in warm hues. 

Photo by Raghuveer Makala 

#newmexico #whitesandsnationalpark #publiclands #sunset

Featured image: Oil and gas drilling in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. Photo by BLM Wyoming, Flickr.