Despite Industry Efforts To Blame Administration, There’s A Geologic Reason Most Drilling Occurs On Nonfederal Lands

By Jessica Goad

The United States is in the midst of an energy boom, seen for example in the rise of U.S. oil production to its highest level in 20 years. But this hasn’t stopped the oil and gas industry from clamoring for more access to public lands for drilling, and from criticizing the Obama administration for “[putting] in place more obstacles” and setting public lands “off-limits” to development.

For example, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Ranking Member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, even went so far as to state, “There’s no disputing the fact that our nation’s domestic energy production on federal lands has been stymied by this administration.”

But a new report released today by the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities called “Follow the Oil” shows that putting the blame on the president and his administration is nothing more than conservative messaging.  Much of today’s boom in oil and natural gas is from unconventional shale “plays,” areas that have only recently been opened through new technology.  And, as the report notes:

Nationwide, 90 percent of all current shale gas plays exist on nonfederal lands, with only 10 percent located on federal lands. Even starker, almost all shale oil resources exist on non-federal lands. Only 7 percent of current shale oil and mixed plays are found on federally-owned lands with the remaining 93 percent on nonfederal lands.

This map shows what those findings look like across the country, and where the industry is “following the oil”:

Additionally, economics are playing a role in driving drilling from public lands to nonfederal lands.  As the report states, “rapid development increased the supply of natural gas, driving down prices, and sending companies searching for other drilling locations and revenue sources.”

In other words, the oil and gas industry has met the enemy, and it is itself.

The release of this report comes at a very opportune time, considering that Sally Jewell, nominee to be the next Secretary of the Interior, will have her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week

And as expected, key members of the committee are preparing to ask her questions about how the administration is stifling drilling on public lands. For example, Energy and Environment Daily reports that Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) will ask Jewell “where she stands on domestic energy development, job creation and federal regulations.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Ranking Member on the committee, said she told Jewell in a meeting last week about “resource potential in Alaska, off-shore and in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the limitations to access.”

And Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) released a statement after Jewell’s nomination announcement that “The [Interior Department’s] approach has hurt our economy, killed jobs, and prevented states like Utah from generating critical revenue,” so questions about energy on public lands are also likely to come from him.

The report released today shows that, despite all of the questions Jewell may get on drilling on public lands, the industry in the end is “following the oil” to nonfederal lands.

Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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