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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

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Atlas of Active Leases

Regional Summaries




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From conservation to careful selection of public lands on which to drill, we can reduce the impact of oil and gas development on our natural resources while preserving a reliable source of energy. While the following list is not comprehensive, it provides some of the most important measures for improving oil and gas development on our public lands:

1. Prioritize Conservation and Renewable Energy: No matter how careful companies are, oil and gas drilling will have an impact on our public lands — an impact that may cause irreversible damage to water, wildlife and soil. That also means irreversible damage to western economies that are increasingly dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism. Therefore, our oil and gas policy ought to prioritize investments in technologies that use oil and gas more efficiently or replace oil and gas with cleaner, longer-lasting renewable energy.

  • Instead of drilling for the estimated 4.8 million barrels of oil in Colorado's spectacular Roan Plateau, we could raise gas mileage standards for cars and light trucks to 40 miles per gallon by 2012. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, this change could allow us to save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2010. As a result, in just over three days, we would save the same amount of oil contained in Roan Plateau (UCS Drilling in Detroit 2001).
  • New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson reports that instead of drilling 35 gas wells and 70 oil wells in New Mexico's fragile Otero Mesa we could generate the same amount of energy by investing in about 110 wind turbines (EIA CA Natural Gas, Ferguson 2003).

Conservation also means that we will get more out of our public lands when we do develop oil and gas resources. At current rates of consumption, the oil and gas in several sensitive western areas will provide only days or months of energy. By reducing consumption, we can use our precious resources for longer periods of time.

2. Protect critical areas: Some areas of public land should be off-limits to oil and gas leasing. Areas identified by BLM or other government agencies as wilderness quality, such as those in Utah's 1996-1999 wilderness inventory, should be protected from oil and gas drilling at least until these areas can be studied further. Areas identified by citizens groups as potential wilderness should receive special consideration for protection as should areas where oil and gas drilling could contaminate water or exhaust scarce water supplies. In general, BLM should ensure that it gives as much priority to resource protection as it does to oil and gas drilling.

3. Give rights to surface owners: When oil and gas companies lease the minerals underneath surface land that is owned by someone else, the surface owner should have to give permission for oil and gas drilling and be allowed to negotiate the terms of such drilling before drilling begins. Under federal and state law, oil and gas companies can typically begin drilling without permission (OGAP 2003).

4. Require companies to provide adequate funds for cleanup and ensure that they fully reclaim developed areas: According to the BLM and several oil and gas watchdog groups, it costs approximately $20,000 on average to clean up a single oil or gas well. Yet federal rules allow operators to post a bond of only $10,000 per lease (and leases may contain multiple wells) to be used for cleanup if the company is unwilling or unable to complete cleanup. The federal rules further provide that a company can post a bond of as little as $25,000 to cover all leases in a state and $150,000 to cover all leases nationally (CFR Oil & Gas Bonding 2004).

These funding levels mean that taxpayers bear a significant risk for cleaning up oil and gas development. For example, in 2001, state and federal managers in Wyoming reported that Emerald Restoration & Production, a Gilette-based company, went bankrupt, leaving only about $250,000 worth of bonds to cover the estimated $4 million bill for closing 120 wells. The company had posted a blanket bond of $25,000 to cover its wells on federal land; the other wells were located on state and private land. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had required Emerald to pay additional bond money for the state and private wells but the total was still far short of the cost of cleanup (Bleizeffer 2001).

The federal bonding rules mean that the nation's largest leaseholder, Yates Petroleum, could post $150,000 in bonds to cover the cost of cleanup on its 4,090 leases which may contain thousands of wells. Neither the number of wells a company has drilled nor the amount of a company's bond are contained in BLM land records.

5. Require oil and gas companies to use low-impact techniques: Among other things, companies must employ horizontal drilling and multiple wells per drilling pad to minimize the amount of disturbed acres. Companies must use closed-loop drilling systems to recycle drilling fluids instead of dumping them in a waste pit.


  1. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR Oil & Gas Bonding). 2004. 43 CFR § 3104.1-3104.8 (2004).
  2. Energy Information Administration. 2002. Natural Gas Annual 2002, California. Accessed online July 14, 2004 at http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/natural_gas
    /table_030.pdf. The EIA reports that residential consumption was almost 511 billion cubic feet in 2002. California's 2002 consumption of natural gas amounted to 2.27 trillion cubic feet.
  3. Oil and Gas Accountability Project, et al. 2001. Protecting Wyoming's People, Land, Water and Air: A Citizen's Proposal to Conserve Wyoming's Heritage in the Powder River Basin. Accessed online July 14, 2004 at http://www.wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/programs
  4. Richardson, Bill. 2004. Governor Bill Richardson's Consistency Review of and Recommended Changes to the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management's Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Federal Fluid Minerals Leasing and Development in Sierra and Otero Counties. Accessed online June 4, 2004 at http://www.oteromesa.org/.
  5. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS Drilling in Detroit). 2001. Drilling in Detroit. Accessed online July 14, 2004 at http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_vehicles

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