header graphic

EWG INVESTIGATION

 

1: Executive Summary

2: About Oil/Gas Leases

3: Oil & Gas Impacts

4: Bush Admin Rollbacks

5: The Spin on Drilling

6: Hotspot: Roan Plateau, CO

7: Hotspot: Otero Mesa, NM

8: Hotspot: Rocky Mtn Front, MT

9: Hotspot: Powder River Basin, WY

10: Hotspot: Book Cliffs, UT

11: Oil, Gas, Political Cash

12: EWG Recommendations

13: Methodology

Printer-Friendly Version

Credits


MAPS

 

Atlas of Active Leases

Regional Summaries


VIEW STATE SUMMARIES


FIND A COMPANY

 

Search for a Lease Holder

 

 

 






 

Big Access, Little Energy — the Oil and Gas Industry's Hold on Western Lands

A first-ever investigation of federal land use and energy production records by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows that the oil and gas industry has been given access to an immense area of western land, and that this nearly unfettered opportunity to drill in 12 western states has done nothing to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

The report contradicts a widely-repeated myth, most recently articulated at an August 3 town meeting in Arkansas by Vice President Dick Cheney. "What we've fallen into the habit of doing is we continue to increase our consumption of energy, specifically oil and gas, but we aren't producing here at home," Cheney said. "We've taken large chunks of the country and put it off limits to any kind of exploration or development...large parts of the Rocky Mountain West are off limits" (FDCH 2004). EWG's year-long analysis shows:

  • The federal government has offered 229 million acres of public and private land in 12 western states for oil and gas drilling, an area greater than the combined size of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, according to an EWG analysis of land use records maintained by the federal government from 1982 to the present. This acreage represents the sum of total land actively leased in 1982 and land newly offered from 1982 through 2004.

  • WHAT THEY SAY:

    "...our ability to develop gas resources has been hampered by restrictions on natural gas exploration."

    — President Bush introducing his national energy plan in St. Paul, MN, 2001

    (Source: New York Times, 5/18/01).


  • Despite access to more than 200 million acres of public land over the past 15 years (1989-2003), the oil and gas industry has produced enough energy from this land to satisfy only 53 days of U.S. oil consumption and 221 days of natural gas consumption, according to EWG's analysis of well-by-well oil and gas production records obtained August 16 2004 via a Freedom of Information Act Request. This rate of production amounts to an average of 3.6 days per year of oil and 14.8 days per year of natural gas (MMS 2004, EIA Petroleum Review 2004, EIA Natural Gas Review 2004).
  • As these small production figures suggest, drilling on federal lands in the West has done nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign energy. In fact, since 1982, our dependence on foreign oil has doubled and our dependence on foreign natural gas has tripled (EIA Petroleum Review 2004, EIA Natural Gas Review 2004). A recent government estimate found that the five most oil- and gas-rich basins in the western U.S. contain about a 280-day supply of oil and an 8-year supply of natural gas at current rates of consumption -- an analysis that likely overstates the amount of energy that is economically available (Energy Inventory 2003).
  • Despite the relatively small amounts of energy in the West, the Bush administration has removed barriers to drilling on a net 45 million acres in 12 western states and has lifted environmental protections and emphasized drilling on lands already open to oil and gas development.
  • In producing oil and gas, companies often pump out large quantities of water from underground, particularly in coal bed methane development. In the last 15 years, companies have pumped out 548 billion gallons of water, enough to pour over Niagra Falls for 42 days at the Falls' current flow rate. About 66 percent of that water was reinjected, still leaving 181 billion gallons extracted -- the amount of water that pours over Niagra Falls for 13 days (MMS 2004, CNN 2003). Most so-called "produced water" is unfit for human consumption but removing it can deplete local springs and wells; contaminate land, surface water and ground water; and cause erosion. Reinjection can contaminate groundwater (OGAP 2004).
  • Between 2000 and 2004, the oil and gas industry poured more than $75 million into political campaigns, with 79 percent going to Republicans, money that may have influenced administration decisions opening protected public lands to drilling (CRP 2004).

 


229 Million Acres Leased or Offered for Oil and Gas Drilling Since 1982

map

Interactive Version of This Map

Source: EWG analysis of leasing and drilling records in 12 western states, contained in the Bureau of Land Management's Land and Mineral Records 2000 database, acquired by EWG May 15 2004.


Federal Oil and Gas Leasing and Production Data

Click to view a sample of raw oil and gas data

Two federal databases document the scope of oil and gas leasing and production in western states, and form the backbone of this website.

The scope of western lands the government has offered for oil and gas drilling is held in a 12-Gigabyte, 125 million record database called Land and Mineral Records 2000 (LR2000) housed in a Bureau of Land Management data center in Denver, Colorado. The Environmental Working Group last acquired these files on May 15, 2004. In raw form the data are a string of codes in numerous text files that document oil and gas industry leasing and drilling on public land throughout the West, and on privately owned lands on which the government holds the oil and gas rights (called "private surface rights" land). EWG researchers used mapping and data tools to synthesize the 7.6 million data records on oil and gas industry activity into a detailed analysis of the scope of lands the government has offered since 1982 to the oil and gas industry, by land tract and by company.

An accounting of well-by-well oil and gas production from publicly owned reserves is maintained by the Minerals Management Service in a database called the Oil and Gas Operations Report. These data were obtained August 16, 2004 by EWG in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and are incorporated into this website to provide a first-ever detailed accounting, by company, county, and state, of oil and gas production in 12 western states over the past 14 years.

Our analysis of these data underlie the findings in our study of who controls public lands in the West. To our knowledge, our effort is the first that makes publicly available comprehensive, detailed information on the scope of control of the United States' public lands by oil and gas interests, and who has profited from that control. To our knowledge this effort also includes the first detailed accounting of the quantities of oil and gas produced by individual companies in the western U.S.


A Western Welcome Mat for Oil and Gas

It's the great urban legend of energy policy: if only we could open more public land to oil and gas development, we could wean ourselves from dependence on foreign energy. In fact, we've already followed this strategy and it hasn't worked.

Since 1982, the federal government has leased or offered 229 million acres of public and private land in 12 western states for oil and gas drilling, an area greater than the combined size of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

Of the 229 million acres, 47.5 million acres cover so-called "split-estate" or "private surface" lands, where a private entity owns the surface but the federal government holds the rights to oil and gas underneath. In most states, private surface owners can do little to stop or control oil and gas drilling on such land. Ranchers in several western states have seen their land ruined and their water supplies depleted by oil and gas operations.

Currently, more than 35 million acres are leased while 10 million acres of oil and gas leases are located on split estate property.

The amount of acres newly leased each year has steadily declined since the 1980s, probably because the government has already offered most of the energy-rich land. Domestic onshore natural gas production from public and private lands has generally increased since 1990 while domestic onshore oil production has declined, but not for lack of access.

A recent study by three federal agencies indicated that access is not a problem for the remaining available energy; in the five western basins that contain "most of the onshore natural gas and much of the oil under public ownership within the 48 contiguous states," the study found that 88 percent of the natural gas and 85 percent of the oil is on land open to leasing (Energy Inventory 2003).


Little Oil and Gas, Increasing Foreign Dependence

EWG's analysis and federal data show that without investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, domestic drilling is unlikely to significantly lessen our dependence on foreign oil or avert increasing dependence on foreign natural gas.


WHAT THEY SAY:

"...if we want to maintain our quality of life and make our nation more secure, we have to understand that access to oil and natural gas on public lands is very important..."

— Christine Hansen, Executive Director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, 2003.


Despite the fact that nearly one-third of the West has been offered to the oil and gas industry, our consumption consistently far exceeds production. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a data analysis group under the Department of Energy, our net imports (imports minus exports) of oil have increased from nearly 4.3 million barrels per day in 1982 to 11.2 million barrels of oil per day in 2003. Perhaps more importantly, the percentage of our oil consumed that comes from foreign sources has doubled -- from 28 percent in 1982 to 56 percent in 2003 (EIA Petroleum Review 2004).

Natural gas net imports have increased from 882 billion cubic feet in 1982 to 3.2 trillion cubic feet in 2003. The percentage of natural gas that we consume which comes from foreign sources has tripled from about 4.9 percent in 1982 to 14.7 percent in 2003 (EIA Natural Gas Review 2004). The EIA projects that dependence on foreign oil and gas will continue to grow rapidly over the next 20 years (EIA 2004a).

In addition, the EIA found that domestic production will decline and our dependence on foreign oil will continue its steady climb even if the administration's proposed energy plan is fully implemented (EIA 2004a; EIA 2004b).

According to a recent study by three federal agencies, the five western basins containing "most of the onshore natural gas and much of the oil under public ownership within the 48 contiguous states" would supply only about 280 days of oil and 8 years of natural gas at current rates of consumption -- an analysis that likely overestimates the energy that is economically available (Energy Inventory 2003).


Source: Environmental Information Administration's Petroleum Review 2004, Natural Gas Review 2004 and Annual Energy Outlook 2004 with Projections to 2025.



Bush Administration: More Access

Through a series of policy decisions at the national and local levels, the Bush Administration has lifted barriers to oil and gas drilling on millions of acres while removing environmental protections and emphasizing drilling on lands that were already open to oil and gas development.

An analysis of public land use decision records compiled by the Environmental Working Group shows that the Bush Administration has issued decisions or proposals to remove barriers to oil and gas development on 44.6 million more acres than it has protected. In contrast, the Clinton Administration protected almost 65 million more acres than it opened. Although lands now stripped of protections will not necessarily be leased, the option to lease is now a possibility.