Climate + Energy

No Need to Lease Public Lands for Fracking

DSCN8104The U.S. Bureau of Land Management just released oil and gas leasing statistics for fiscal year 2017 (so that’s October 1 – September 30, 2017) and the results still confirm that there is absolutely no need to lease more public lands for fracking.

The data shows that at the end of fiscal year 2017, only 49% of all U.S. public lands acres under lease for oil and gas development are actually producing oil and gas.

In total, 25.7 million acres of public lands are under lease while nearly 12.8 million acres are actually producing oil and gas.

That means that less than half of all leased acres are actually being put to use.  The remaining acres are doing nothing other than sitting in industry’s pocket.

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Drilling down into the data (pun totally intended) further shows that in most major oil and gas producing states, the level of production from public lands leases is even lower than the average. For example:

The data was just posted on the Bureau of Land Management’s website and it presents a host of other important statistics that continue to cast doubt on whether the agency’s oil and gas leasing program is doing any good for the American public, especially under President Trump and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke.

For example, in 2017, 88% of all leases put up for auction were “protested” (i.e., administrative appealed), seemingly the highest rate of appeals ever filed over federal oil and gas leasing.


That’s a stunning sign of intense public opposition to the agency’s leasing proposals under the Trump Administration and far outpaces the level of protests filed even when George W. Bush was in office.

And in 2017, while 11.9 million acres were put up for auction, only 792,823 acres actually received bids. That means industry was only interested in a little more than 6% of the public lands that were put for auction.

Notably absent from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s statistics website is data on the number of idled drilling permits. At the end of 2016, the agency reported that the oil and gas industry was sitting on more than 7,500 unused drilling permits, most of which were in the American West.

In a blatant move to bolster its rhetoric around a drilling permit backlog, last year the Trump Administration scrubbed the Bureau of Land Management’s website of idle drilling permit statistics.

In March, we sued the Bureau of Land Management to obtain this data and also records showing exactly why the agency decided to removed idle drilling permit data (and who told them to). Unfortunately, for the time being, this data is staying secret under the Trump Administration.

Finally, what’s most fascinating is that the data shows that the number oil and gas leases and the acreage of public lands oil and gas leases is actually declining. As of the end of fiscal year 2017, only a little more than 38,000 leases were in effect, one of the lowest levels in recent history.

The reason? Because industry is not producing.

Even though leasing hands over the right to industry to develop public lands for oil and gas, if companies can’t produce within 10 years, they lose their leases.

That’s little consolation from our perspective. When a lease is issued, it effectively locks up public lands only for the oil and gas industry. And if oil and gas prices start climbing, you can bet that more and more leased lands will be developed, turning our lands into an off-limits fossil fuel sacrifice zone.


Gas well on public lands in western Colorado’s Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest.

It’s another deeply troubling sign that the Trump Administration’s push to lease more and more of our public lands for fracking is simply a ploy to put as much of our lands into industry’s hands as possible. As has been noted, oil and gas leasing under Trump is nothing short of de facto privatization scheme that is taking millions of acres of our public lands away from us.

Putting aside all the climate, air and water, wildlife, and land destruction caused by oil and gas leasing, the simple truth of the matter is there is absolutely no need to lease a single acre more of our public lands.