House Panel Misses Facts On Oil And Gas On Federal Lands

Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee will do their level best at a hearing today to perpetuate a host of myths about the pace and efficiency of oil and gas development on federal lands compared to state and private lands. And as in the past, their level best won’t be on the level.

Today’s hearing, “State Lands vs. Federal Lands Oil and Gas Production: What State Regulators Are Doing Right,” is the latest attempt to show that the Obama administration, through regulations, bureaucratic obstacles, and an ideological hostility to the oil and gas industry, has thwarted traditional energy development on 700 million acres of federal and tribal lands and those private lands where it controls the mineral rights.

Those criticisms fly in the face of the facts:

  • Oil production from federal lands and waters in every one of the last four years was higher than it was in 2008, according to an analysis of Energy Information Administration data by the Congressional Research Service.
  • The oil and gas industry itself has cut back on its requests to drill on public lands, from an average of 6.6 million acres in 2006 to 2008 to 4.8 million acres annually from 2009 to 2012, a decline of 27 percent.
  • The production of shale gas and shale oil in recent years is taking place “largely outside of the Federal lands” because that’s where those resources are, according to 2012 testimony by Adam Sieminski, administrator of the Energy Information Administration to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
  • The vast majority of shale oil and shale gas plays exist underneath non-federal lands, a study by the Center for Western Priorities found. That study, “Follow the Oil,” showed that only ten percent of shale gas plays occur on federal lands, and only 7 percent of shale oil and mixed plays are on federal lands.
  • High oil prices Market forces and depressed natural gas prices have been driving oil and gas developers to shift from drilling for natural gas to drilling for shale oil in places like North Dakota, where the resources largely lie beneath private lands. Oil and gas companies have made “market choices…to shift their production to oil and other liquid plays and away from gas,” according to Mark Squillace, professor of law at the University of Colorado. “And this means less activity on public lands.”
  • State and federal permitting procedures for oil and gas are fundamentally different, with negotiations to resolve problems taking place before permitting begins on private land but after the process begins on federal land, making it almost automatically faster to get permits on lands where the state controls the permitting. As the Congressional Research Service reported, “A private versus federal permitting regime does not lend itself to an ‘apples to apples’ comparison.”
  • The Congressional Research Service also found that between 2006 and 2011 the federal Bureau of Land Management has significantly cut its time for processing drilling permits from an average of 127 days to 71 days, while the time it has taken for industry to complete its processing chores has increased from an average of 91 days to 236 days.

Many critics of the federal oil and gas leasing program ignore that these resources are on publicly owned lands and waters — they belong to every American. And as the Federal Land Policy and Management Act makes clear, these lands are for multiple uses — including hunting, fishing, recreation, and grazing — and not just for oil and gas production. Despite this multiple use management requirement, the president has leased 2 acres for oil and gas production for every one acre of land conserved for future generations.


Members of the House Natural Resources Committee should be more concerned about that imbalance, rather than their fictitious statements about oil and gas production from federal lands and waters by President Obama.

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.