The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power held a hearing this morning about the differences between drilling for oil and gas on private versus public lands. GOP members of the committee tried to use the hearing to claim the Administration is hampering oil and gas development.
However, a number of witnesses testified to the contrary, saying that there is a substantial amount of drilling occurring on public lands. The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Christy Goldfuss was one of them:
Regarding new lands offered for oil and gas development, the Bureau of Land Management held three of the top five largest sales in the agency’s history in calendar year 2011, and this year, it has approved controversial projects to drill in the Arctic Ocean and close to wilderness areas near Desolation Canyon, Utah. With this level of oil and gas activity on public lands, it is clear why a recent New York Times article about oil and gas production on public lands said, “The score card shows that the industry is winning.”
And yet members like Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) claimed that “the Obama administration has substantially cut back on new energy leasing in these federal lands and offshore areas.”
The oil and gas industry agreed with this sentiment in its testimony. Kathleen Sgamma,Vice President of Government & Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, acknowledged that the oil and gas business is booming, but also complained that production on public lands “is simply not keeping pace” with the current boom in unconventional oil plays on private lands in North Dakota and Texas.
However, while the oil and gas industry demands more access to public lands, it is sitting on thousands of leases. A report from the Department of the Interior found that 56 percent of the acres leased onshore and 72 percent of the acres leased offshore are not in production or exploration.
Goldfuss and other witnesses cautioned that many federal public lands — which are managed by the government on behalf of all Americans — are meant for multiple uses, of which oil and gas development is only one. Other uses of public lands include hunting, fishing, recreation, grazing, and renewable energy development. In response to industry calling for more land to be leased, Goldfuss said:
… an “all of the above” energy strategy does not mean an “all of the acres” or “oil above all” strategy.
Today’s hearing is the eleventh in the House Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources Committees thus far in 2012 on how to increase drilling.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.