by Daniel J. Weiss
The Department of Interior released an updated analysis of fossil fuel leases today, finding that more than two thirds of offshore leases and half of onshore leases are sitting idle — “neither producing nor under active exploration.”
The report, “Oil and Gas Lease Utilization, Onshore and Offshore Updated Report to the President,” explained that oil and gas companies hold thousands of undeveloped leases. Despite holding these inactive leases, the oil industry continues to demand the opening of new, previously protected federal lands and waters areas to drilling.
The report found that:
More than 70 percent of the tens of millions of offshore acres currently under lease are inactive, neither producing nor currently subject to approved or pending exploration or development plans. Out of nearly 36 million acres leased offshore, only about 10 million acres are active – leaving nearly 72 percent of the offshore leased area idle.
In the lower 48 states, an additional 20.8 million acres, or 56 percent of onshore leased acres, remain idle. Furthermore, there are approximately 7,000 approved permits for drilling on federal and Indian lands that have not yet been drilled by companies.
According to the Energy Information Administration, total federal oil production (offshore and onshore) has increased by 13 percent during the first three years of the Obama administration combined, compared with the last three years of the previous administration. According to independent analysis, the total number of active rigs operating on the U.S. outer continental shelf was higher in January 2012 than any time since May 2010.
The American Petroleum Institute – Big Oil’s lobbying arm — claims that the Department of Interior ignores exploratory work on leases; however, that is clearly included in DOI’s assessment above.
API recently demanded that the Obama Administration open up the North Atlantic to “seismic exploration” for oil. This is an area that supports vital American fisheries.
In addition to holding thousands of undeveloped leases while lobbying to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the New England Coast, and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the big five oil companies produced 12 percent less oil in 2011 than in 2006 — all while making record profits.
Daniel J. Weiss is Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.