Keep It in the Ground

Quick Facts

  • Oil and natural gas comprised 65.8% of U.S. energy consumption in 2017, compared to 3.2% from wind and solar.
  • BLM generated nearly $360 million from oil and natural gas lease sales on public lands in 2017, an 86% more increase over the previous year.
  • Oil and natural gas development on BLM lands supported 201,000 jobs and contributed more than $42 billion to the U.S. economy.

Keep It in the Ground is a global protest movement opposing fossil fuel development. It is promoted by hundreds of environmental activist organizations that aggressively campaign against governments and businesses that develop oil, natural gas, and coal. Civil disobedience is the trademark of the movement as activists intentionally disrupt to draw attention to the cause.

In their fight against climate change, environmental groups have grown increasingly antagonist in order to pressure policymakers to restrict carbon emissions and the public to change behavior. To justify their “revolution against fossil fuels” Greenpeace, the Center for Biodiversity and others point to a 2015 report in the journal Nature that claims leaving 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground would save 450 billion tons of carbon, half the amount necessary to prevent a two degree Celsius increase in global temperatures.

Ignoring other larger sources of carbon such as agriculture and transportation, activist groups see oil and natural gas producers as a primary target. They believe that stopping the development of fossil fuels is the easiest way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Well-funded groups at the international, national, and community levels have developed strategic campaigns aimed at media, government agencies, courts, financial lenders, infrastructure, and even law enforcement.

In the United States, the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement started protesting oil and natural gas leasing on multiple-use public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Organizers demanded the Obama Administration bypass Congress to issue a moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing just as the Administration had done with coal production. For the next 18 months activists picketed and disrupted lease sales, often resulting in the local police being called in. To reduce the threat to agency employees, BLM implemented online auction technology and stopped holding the lease sales in-person. Although the BLM protests have ended as a result, the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement has expanded to target other activities associated with oil and natural gas production, especially pipeline construction.

Lost Jobs and Higher Energy Bills

The consequences of entirely ditching fossil fuels would be severe, particularly for the poor. Consider that households making less than $30,000 annually spend 23% of their take-home pay on energy compared to 9% in households making more than $50,000. Countries like Germany that have implemented sweeping energy mandates to significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption have seen consumer energy prices soar. According to Der Spiegel, “Germany’s aggressive and reckless expansion of wind and solar power has come with a hefty price tag for consumers, and the costs often fall disproportionately on the poor. Government advisors are calling for a completely new start.”

Economically, keeping it in the ground would lead to severe job loss and strain government budgets. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wyoming would lose 32,600 jobs and almost $900 million in annual royalty collections that represent nearly 20% percent of the state’s education budget. New Mexico would lose 24,300 jobs and $496 million in annual royalty collections, representing 8% of the state’s general fund. Colorado would lose 50,000 jobs and $125 million in royalties annually.

Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

If activists truly care to reduce carbon emissions while ensuring economic success for all Americans, they would quit protesting and instead embrace natural gas production. Increased use of natural gas in electricity generation is the primary reason the United States has reduced greenhouse gas emissions more than any other country. Increased use of natural gas has provided 63% of the emissions reductions in the electricity sector over the last decade, compared to just 37% from wind, solar and other non-carbon sources combined.