Drilling Dashboard update

Apr 11, 2024

Drilling Dashboard update

Apr 11, 2024

The Biden administration inherited a federal oil and gas program that was broken and rigged in favor of the oil and gas industry. It had been that way for decades, as documented repeatedly by the Government Accountability OfficeCongressional Budget Office, and DOI’s Inspector General, and it reached a low point during the Trump administration, which tried (and failed) to make oil and gas drilling the “dominant” use of America’s public lands.

Fortunately, the past three years have heralded a significant turning point for management of our public lands, especially with regard to the federal oil and gas program. On August 16, 2022 the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law. With this important piece of legislation, Congress brought about long-overdue changes to the federal oil and gas leasing program, including the first-ever increase to the onshore royalty rate for new leases in over 100 years and the elimination of the practice of leasing lands “noncompetitively” for just $1.50 per acre. Less than a year later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed new rules for the onshore leasing system, which included updating the agency’s regulations to reflect the leasing provisions in the IRA as well as addressing other issues that have long plagued the program, such as outdated bonding rates, that for decades have allowed oil and gas companies to shift the responsibility for cleaning up federal well sites onto taxpayers.

On April 12, 2024, the BLM finalized its Oil and Gas Leasing Rule, codifying a common-sense set of reforms that will ensure fairer returns to taxpayers from the drilling that takes place on public lands, hold oil and gas companies accountable for cleaning up after themselves, and direct oil and gas leasing away from public lands that host important wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources and have little to no potential for development.

In the midst of updating the regulations governing oil and gas leasing on public lands, the BLM, in conformance with the arbitrary provision in the IRA that ties the agency’s ability to approve renewable energy projects to the holding of oil and gas lease sales and the offering of a certain amount of public lands acreage for oil and gas leasing, has marched ahead with new oil and gas lease sales. However, despite what industry representatives have purported publicly, oil and gas companies have displayed diminishing interest in acquiring new leases. In 2023, companies nominated just 94,000 acres for oil and gas leasing, 99 percent less than they were nominating each year, on average, in the decade prior to the passage of the IRA (CY2012-CY2021). In addition, industry purchased only 55 percent of the nearly 294,000 acres of public lands that were offered for oil and gas leasing in 2023. This dashboard provides an at-a-glance look at federal onshore oil and gas activity during the Biden administration, including the results of oil and gas lease sales, information concerning upcoming oil and gas lease sales, the amount of acreage that has been submitted via expressions of interest, and production and permit approvals. Learn more about the data on our dashboard, or jump straight in. This dashboard will be regularly updated.

Data Types

To understand this dashboard and the terms therein, it’s important to understand the overall process for leasing and development on America’s public lands. Industry is in the driver’s seat from the get-go. The process starts when companies nominate lands they’d like to see offered for lease. In response, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is obligated to evaluate nominated lands, usually through a public process. A lease sale is held at the conclusion of that process. Once a company has a lease, the next step is to get a drilling permit. Because of how the outdated rules are written, it’s very hard for BLM to say “no” at this point and refuse to issue the permit, regardless of potential impacts on other values and our climate.

Production & Lost Royalties
  • Despite a short pause in federal leasing in 2021, oil production on federal public lands has not been interrupted during the Biden administration and is now at its highest level since at least 2003. 
  • While oil and gas companies continued producing oil and gas from our public lands during the pause, before the IRA was passed into law they did so under a century-old royalty rate that for decades hadn’t been providing taxpayers with their fair share. Under the previously outdated 12.5 percent royalty rate, taxpayers lost out on billions of dollars in additional revenue that they should have received from the oil and gas industry’s use of our public lands.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act’s long-overdue increase to the federal onshore royalty rate, which has now been officially been updated in the BLM’s regulations as well, will ensure that taxpayers receive a more fair return for the drilling that occurs on public lands. DOI must require a 16.67 percent royalty rate for any new leases that are sold in upcoming and future lease sales, along with requiring the updated rental rates and minimum lease bid that were also secured by the IRA. The BLM’s Oil and Gas Rule codifies all of the IRA’s onshore fiscal reforms.
Drilling Permits & Taxpayer Reclamation Burden
  • At the end of FY 2023, the oil and gas industry had over 23 million acres of federal public lands under lease, nearly half of which—10.7 million acres—were unused and non-producing. Even while the federal leasing pause was briefly in effect in 2021, nothing has hindered oil and gas companies from being able to apply for and receive new permits to drill on these lands since the start of the Biden administration. Between 1/20/21 and 1/20/24, the BLM approved nearly 10,000 new drilling permits.
  • Before production on any well begins, operators have to post a bond (like a security deposit) that can be used to plug the well and clean up the surrounding land in case the company goes bankrupt or illegally abandons the well. On average, it can cost up to $145,000 to reclaim oil and gas wells on federal lands—and much more for modern shale wells—and yet, due to inadequate federal bonding rates that were not updated for decades, taxpayers have been responsible for millions of dollars in well clean up costs. The Oil and Gas Rule secured long-overdue and critical updates to federal bonding requirements, notably raising the minimum bond for a single well from $10,000 to $150,000; raising the minimum statewide bond from $25,000 to $500,000, and ending nationwide blanket bonding.
Companies Operating On Public Lands
  • Nominations: The IRA implemented a new $5 per-acre fee that is required for all lease nominations, though anyone can still nominate for lease any parcel on the 90 percent of western public lands that are open to leasing. And in order for the BLM to issue rights-of-way for wind and solar development, the IRA—arbitrarily—requires the BLM to have offered for oil and gas leasing the lesser of either 2 million acres or 50 percent of the acreage nominated for lease sales within the past year. After having finalized its new Oil and Gas Rule, the BLM now requires that anyone submitting an expression of interest (EOI) for land to be offered in an upcoming federal oil and gas lease sale must include their name and address with their nomination, effectively ending the previously longstanding and speculative practice of individuals and companies submitting lease nominations anonymously.
  • Leases: The BLM’s opening up of 90 percent of western public lands to leasing—including the vast areas where there is little to no drilling potential—has resulted in the oil and gas industry stockpiling far more leases than companies ever actually use. The industry is currently sitting on over 10 million acres of idle leases, around 46 percent of the total acreage oil and gas companies have under lease as of FY23 leases. That land mass of idled leases, which is generating minimal revenues for taxpayers, is larger than Maryland and Delaware combined.
  • Drilling Permits: In addition to millions of acres of idle leases that could be developed at any time, as of April 2024, the oil and gas industry has over 7,000 unused permits to drill on hand.