Quick Facts

  • Technologies such as directional and horizontal drilling allow responsible development to occur with a very small footprint on the land.
  • New energy development does not occur in National Parks or designated wilderness areas.
  • Very little land is needed to produce natural gas compared to renewables such as wind, solar and biofuels.
  • On the less than 0.07 percent of federal lands where production exists, public lands are still available for other multiple uses such as recreation and hunting.

Oil and Natural Gas Is a Small and Temporary Impact

Western Energy Alliance believes in the principle of multiple use of public lands. Oil and natural gas development, along with grazing and outdoor recreation, is considered a “principle or major use” of BLM multiple-use lands. Western Energy Alliance members know firsthand that development can and does coexist with these other land uses while protecting other values, such as wildlife and cultural resources. For example, Western operators often partner with sportsmen and conservation groups to provide hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities on their leases.

Access to public lands in the West is critical to maintaining about a quarter of the nation’s oil and natural gas production. In contrast to the rest of the country where the federal government owns only 4% of the lands, 47% of the West is controlled by the federal government, and federal policies can severely impede access to vast oil and natural gas resources. Oil and natural gas companies need reasonable access to public lands and a predictable regulatory structure in order to make long-term decisions on where and when to deploy capital.

Access to public lands is also vitally important to the economies of rural communities. Of the 700 million acres of federal mineral estate, only about 500,000 acres (0.07%) are disturbed by oil and natural gas activity.

Oil and natural gas development leaves a small and temporary impact on the land, and coexists with other uses such as ranching, recreation and wildlife protection. In fact, areas with prior or even active oil and natural gas activity regularly are proposed for wilderness designation by members of Congress and environmental groups.

In 2008, DOI, along with several other agencies, released an assessment of public lands access that found that of the 279 million acres of federal lands with potential oil and gas, approximately 60 percent (166 million acres) is off limits. These lands contain about 62 percent of the oil (19 billion barrels) and 41 percent of the natural gas (94.5 Tcf) on federal land. Since then, new policies, such as sage grouse amendments, master leasing plans, and other administrative designations, have restricted access even further.

Recent draft land use plan revisions show a pronounced upward trend in restrictions. In four RMP revisions in Colorado, BLM proposes to increase No Surface Occupancy (NSO) acreage by 58%, Controlled Surface Use (CSU) by 50%, and Timing Limitations (TL) by 64%. Pending Greater Sage-Grouse amendments, Master Leasing Plans, and other administrative designations threaten to impose even further restrictions. These restrictions may serve to make development on public lands uneconomical, and may actually place significant energy off limits.