Use It Or Lose It: Report Shows Oil And Gas Companies Sitting On Thousands Of Unused Leases

Mitt Romney, the American Petroleum Institute, and other fossil fuel allies constantly agitate to open more federal lands and waters to drilling, claiming that they aren’t getting enough access.

But a new report from Representative Edward Markey titled “Use It or Lose It” finds that 131 oil and gas companies have 3,684 idle leases in the Gulf of Mexico alone. The Big Five oil companies — BP, Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips — are responsible for 40 percent of the 20.7 million acres “not undergoing exploration, development, or production” in the region.

According to the report, a majority of offshore leases and onshore leases are not being used by oil companies:

Oil companies have failed to explore, develop or produce these leases while simultaneously calling on Congress and the Interior Department to lease more federal offshore lands. This issue, which has been hotly debated in recent years, came up in last Tuesday’s presidential debate when Republican nominee Mitt Romney wrongly accused President Obama of curtailing oil and gas drilling off America’s coasts and on public land. In fact, oil and gas production from public lands is higher than it was during the last three years of the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration is trying to further boost production through “use it or lose it” policies for idle federal drilling leases. Oil and gas companies are currently not using 72 percent of the total acres leased offshore and 56 percent of the total acres leased onshore.

Below is a chart showing the change in oil drilling on public lands between the Bush and Obama Administrations:

Romney’s complaints about permits imply that the number of drilling permits is the best measure of oil production from federal lands and waters — but they are not. The best measure is the amount of oil produced from these places. The Energy Information Administration reports that there was more oil produced from federal places in every year under President Obama compared to each of the last three years under President Bush. Total oil production from these places during these two time periods was 240 million barrels of oil higher under Obama than under Bush.


So much for Romney’s claims about the reduction in oil production from federal areas. And total U.S. oil production under President Obama is at a 17-year high.

The next time Romney or his big oil allies beleaguer about permits or drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it is essential to remember that there are nearly 3,700 idle leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mackenzie Bronson is an intern with the energy policy team at the Center for American Progress.