Investigation Shows That Despite Claims, Oil And Gas Industry Has Had Wide Access To The West

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

WASHINGTON — The oil and gas industry and federal officials repeatedly claim that environmental protections have blocked their access to Western lands and hurt efforts to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy. However, a year-long review of Department of Interior records by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows the oil and gas industry has enjoyed decades of access to an enormous amount of Western lands. Yet during this period, U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources has continually increased.

This analysis of 125 million Department of Interior land use records contradicts a widely repeated claim, most recently articulated at an August 3, 2004 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."

In contrast, EWG's analysis shows:

  • From 1982 to the present, 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.
  • 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 just 53 days' worth of oil and 221 days' of natural gas.
  • U.S. dependence on foreign energy has not decreased. Rather, since 1982, our dependence on foreign oil has doubled and our dependence on foreign natural gas has tripled.

"Far from being blocked from access to the West, these numbers show that this industry controls the West. If we want to break our dependence on Middle East oil, we need to move this economy to renewable energy sources, quickly and decisively," said EWG analyst Dusty Horwitt.

This interactive investigation can be found on the EWG website at Users can map which lands are open for drilling, find out which companies are leasing the land and how much oil and natural gas they are actually producing.

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.