When the Biden administration enacted a temporary pause on new oil and gas leases on public lands, the oil industry said the sky was falling, predicting massive job losses and production cuts. In the meantime, drill rig counts have increased, stock prices have risen, and major oil companies flush with cash have begun taking steps for their shareholders to reap the benefits. Now, new data from the Bureau of Land Management shows that, despite industry fear mongering, oil companies have nearly 10,000 approved, but unused public lands drilling permits, an all-time high in recent memory.
The system governing drilling on our public lands is profoundly broken. More than a century old, that system allows oil companies to anonymously nominate specific places they would like to drill, pay below-market rates for leases, stockpile permits, then either pay taxpayers a pittance to extract publicly-owned resources or tie up our public lands in leases that never even enter production. Rightfully, the Biden administration has paused the offering of new oil and gas leases on public lands while it evaluates how to reform the system. In the meantime, however, companies can still obtain and use public lands drilling permits on leases they already own.
According to recently released data from the Bureau of Land Management, oil companies now hold 9,841 approved, but unused, drilling permits for federally-owned minerals — up an astonishing 25% since the end of March, and an all-time high. In particular, companies in the drilling-heavy states of New Mexico and Wyoming have 4,626 and 2,867 approved, but unused permits, respectively. Further, the data show that companies are applying for fewer and fewer permits each month, resulting in the BLM approving more permits than are currently being applied for. Basically, the oil and gas industry is insisting that the leasing pause is restricting their ability to produce on federal public lands, but government data show that their interest in acquiring more permits for drilling is actually waning, all while their stockpile of permits is soaring.
This data confirms what a recent study by the Conservation Economics Institute concluded — the impacts of the Biden administration’s temporary pause on new leasing are negligible. Although new leases on federal public lands are currently not being offered, the industry has more than 14 million acres of unused leases already on the books — enough to drill for another 67 years. In fact, the study found that demand for public lands oil and gas leases has declined in recent decades and that employment in the oil and gas industry is not correlated with the issuance of public land leases.
It is long past time for the Bureau of Land Management to reform the system that governs oil and gas leasing and drilling on our public lands. Not only must we ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair return for publicly-owned resources, we must ensure that the impacts of drilling on our communities, wildlife, and climate are being accounted for. Communities around the West are increasingly realizing that our public lands are one of our greatest assets and calling for a more sustainable path focused on conservation and clean energy. As the oil industry continues to howl about the Biden administration’s efforts to reform public land management, government data shows they are once again crying wolf about the impacts of those reforms.
Debunking the oil industry’s false claims on Biden’s leasing reform
Recent Interior Department forum featured misleading statements from lobbyists, executives
The oil industry is doing fine with a pause on oil leasing — just ask their CEOs
There’s just one problem with dire predictions from API and friends: oil executives say they’re nonsense