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Energy Policy: Bush's Rush to Drill Yields a Dry Hole

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, July 17, 2008

WASHINGTON, August 4 – The Bush administration has allowed more oil and gas drilling on Western public lands than any administration in at least 25 years, yet prices for gasoline and natural gas have soared and dependence on foreign energy sources continues to climb, according to federal and industry data analyzed by Environmental Working Group (EWG).

From 2001 to 2006, drilling on public land in the West averaged 7,839 wells per year, 60 percent higher than the 4,800 wells drilled annually from 1981 to 1988, when the Reagan administration opened vast tracts of the West to energy development during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion.

Yet despite this dramatic increase in drilling, inflation-adjusted prices for gasoline have soared from $1.77 a gallon in 2001 to $2.80 in 2006 on their way to the current average of about $4. Residential natural gas prices rose from an average of $11.90 per 1,000 cubic feet in 2001 to $14.92 in 2006, settling at $14.30 this spring.

Dependence on foreign oil increased from about 55 percent in 2001 to 59 percent in 2006. Dependence on foreign natural gas remained relatively constant, declining slightly from 16.2 percent in 2001 to 16 percent in 2006 and then rising to 16.4 percent last year.

As reported yesterday by The New York Times, EWG found that most of the production from the drilling surge has been for natural gas, not oil, making it unlikely that Western drilling will do anything to lower gasoline prices. And natural gas prices have soared, too, indicating that more drilling will not bring down natural gas prices, either.

“The Bush administration has opened the floodgates to drilling and we’ve received a gusher of high prices,” said EWG Senior Analyst for Public Lands, Dusty Horwitt. “Instead of reckless drilling, we need conservation, alternative energy and careful stewardship of our public lands.”

Drilling on federal lands increased sharply under the Bush administration because higher prices for oil and particularly natural gas sparked a rush to drill and because the Administration aggressively promoted drilling.

Yet rather than a rush to drill, our energy policy should emphasize careful management of public lands given the use of toxic chemicals, waste pits, heavy equipment and other impacts inherent in drilling. These impacts put at risk the precious water supplies and natural beauty that are essential to the West's long-term economy.

Drilling offshore or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is not the answer either. Drilling these sensitive areas would only perpetuate our dependence on polluting energy sources and delay a serious commitment to alternatives. According to the Department of Energy, offshore drilling of areas currently off-limits will not yield any measurable oil production until 2030 and the Arctic refuge would not produce oil until 2018.

The best way to control energy prices and foreign dependence is by reducing demand with immediate, major and mandatory investments in conservation measures such as mass transit, higher mileage cars, improved building codes, tougher efficiency standards for appliances and lighting, and through the promotion and development of available alternative energy sources like solar and wind.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s reports on the expansion of drilling and mining on Western lands can be found at

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