Stunner: One Quarter of Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come From Fossil Fuels Mined and Drilled on Public Lands

By Jessica Goad

A new report by Stratus Consulting and commissioned by The Wilderness Society released Friday morning shows that 23 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal lands and waters.  As the report states:

In 2009, the most recent year for which total U.S. GHG emissions data are available, the ultimate downstream GHG emissions from fossil fuel extraction from federal lands and waters by private leaseholders could have accounted for approximately 23% of total U.S. GHG emissions and 27% of all energy-related GHG emissions.

The study was commissioned because of deficiencies in the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s first-ever “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for the Federal Government” report released in April 2011.  Under Executive Order 13514, all federal agencies were required to “report and reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” which included items such as energy use, fuel consumed by government fleets, and methane generated by landfill waste.

But, land management agencies like the Interior Department were not required to report emissions from activities that “are under federal agency control but are conducted by private entities,” which includes energy development on public lands.  This allowed for CEQ’s analysis to vastly underestimate the emissions coming from the federal government’s activities.  As Stratus states: “This analysis suggests that ultimate GHG emissions from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands and waters by private leaseholders in 2010 could be more than 20-times larger than the estimate reported in the CEQ inventory.”

This morning’s report demonstrates that energy development on public lands has major impacts when it comes to climate change.  This is because approximately 44% of coal, 36% of crude oil, and 18% of natural gas produced in this country are extracted from public lands, which combined create an astounding amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

That fact is critically important as our government considers strategies to reduce emissions over the coming years.  Federally-managed lands and waters provide a unique opportunity in this process due to their extent and geographic diversity.

This study should serve as an important wake up call for President Obama and the leaders in his administration, both of which have made serious commitments to addressing the climate crisis and making the United States the world leader in clean energy development.  Not only has the president pledged to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated in Copenhagen that “carbon pollution is putting our world—and our way of life—in peril.”

– Jessica Goad is manager of research and outreach on the public lands team at the Center for American Progress.

4 Responses to Stunner: One Quarter of Total U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come From Fossil Fuels Mined and Drilled on Public Lands

  1. Sasparilla says:

    I remember when the Obama administration greatly expanded the size of public lands available for coal extraction (what was that 1 or 2 years ago? That was after the 2 huge tar sands pipelines were approved by Obama months into office in the summer of 2009, Keystone 1 & Alberta Clipper.) Its pretty clear where climate change has rated with Obama since the very beginning – about the best thing you can say about the administration is that at least its not Republican.

    Its hard for talk of a wake up call to be taken seriously in the final few months of the administration that’s in re-election mode (and will say whatever needs to be said to get there – that’s what happened 4 years ago on climate change) when we’ve been sold way down the river on climate change by this administration from the beginning.

  2. clays says:

    You must be glad then production on federal lands is at all time lows.

    You must also be very pleased with the historic high energy prices we’ve currently got.

    F the average american and their economic pain… we’re saving the world here!

  3. Carrie Anne Johnson says:

    As we discuss and think about energy policy here, we would be wise to remember the “alternatives” that our current adminstration seeks is more nuclear. You can see the story from 2010 on DemocracyNow! here:

    And for those of you who think nuclear’s no big deal, please keep in mind a few other things: 1. Fukushima, 2. 100,000 yrs. – we can’t build something that lasts 1,000 years, much less 100,000 years to store the radioactive waste, 3. uranium – it’s a limited, non-renewable element; we will run out, maybe not in 30 yrs, but definitely in the next 100 yrs or so, especially if we increase our use.

  4. EDpeak says:

    And long before uranium “runs out” there is Peak Uranium – maximum extraction rate, after which it reduced (and before peak in pounds, there is peak in energy available as less energy dense mining and lower grades are what we resort too. had a good graphic some years ago)