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water color oil derrick
Stripper well in California's Central Valley.
(Rendering by navajo)

The U.S. Department of Interior has released its latest assessment of oil and gas leases on federal land. Two-thirds of the off-shore leased acreage and half the on-shore acreage in the 48 contiguous states is idle. The companies holding those leases are not actively exploring or otherwise developing them.
According to the report, more than 70 percent of the tens of millions of offshore acres currently under lease are inactive, neither producing nor currently subject to approved or pending exploration or development plans. Out of nearly 36 million acres leased offshore, only about 10 million acres are active—leaving nearly 72 percent of the offshore leased area idle.

In the lower 48 states, an additional 20.8 million acres, or 56 percent of onshore leased acres, remain idle.

In the long run, we need to wean the nation—and the rest of the world—off these fossil fuels insofar as they are burned for transportation, pumping massive gobs of CO2 into the atmosphere and altering our climate in detrimental ways we can both foresee as well as only guess at.

There are some places, deep-water off-shore places, Arctic wilderness places, for instance, where oil and gas production should be more limited than it is now or prohibited outright. Some techniques, like hydraulic fracking, and some resources, like oil shale, should not be part of the mix now. But in the transition to non-fossil fuels, some exploration and production are going to continue for a considerable while. And if they are going to continue on public land, then, in the words of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, leases should be developed "in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers."

The industry says the Obama administration is presenting an unfair picture of the situation. American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said the administration is trying to distract voters from what the industry considers bad policies standing in the way of more drilling:

“It’s absurd to contend the industry pays the government billions of dollars every year in bonus bids and rents to leave land idle,” he maintained. [The industry] develops leases as expeditiously as it can—often in the face of inordinate delays the administration’s own policies create. The administration is being willfully misleading when it identifies leases as idle when companies are seeking permits, doing exploratory drilling, or fighting lawsuits.”
Uh-huh. The administration has opened up tens of millions of acres of land for oil and gas leasing. It held a lease auction last year and it's holding another one this year. Drilling is now at its highest level since the Reagan administration. The industry was upset because the White House held back on leasing while BP was spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It's upset that it has to pay more to lease each acre. It's upset that some modest new restrictions have been placed on drilling. And no doubt it's upset about the shutting down of its cozy arrangement of partying and sleeping with employees of a now-extinct division of the Department of Interior charged with governing leases.

Currently, the industry has three Colorado Republican congressmen in its pocket pushing three outrageous pieces of legislation designed to cut the public out of the leasing review process:

H.R. 4383 creates a $5,000 fee for individuals who wish to participate in the decision-making process for oil and gas development on publicly owned lands. That includes families living near drilling sites who could be forced to live with the effects of drilling on their air and drinking water.

H.R. 4382 outlaws the right of public, local governments, and stakeholders to review lease sales, preventing new information from affecting leasing decisions. It also prevents the BLM from revising leasing plans.

H.R. 4381 gives oil companies first crack at all federal lands, rather than creating a level playing field between renewable energy and fossil fuels. It puts drilling über alles – making it the primary use of public lands above scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values.

If these bills manage somehow to clear Congress, President Obama should ink up that too-little used veto stamp and deep-six them with as much ceremony that is given to bills that get signed.

The fact of the matter is the oil-and-gas industry isn't being held back by onerous red tape on developing land it's leased. It's not using 7,000 already-approved drilling permits for federal and Indian lands. 7,000. Already got the lease. Already got the final permit to go ahead. So what's the problem again?

If Big Oil were producing energy from its own bullshit, we'd already be free of fossil fuel.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue May 15, 2012 at 03:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  so they're paying us rent (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, ilovecheese, VClib, nextstep

    in order not to use the leasehold?  sounds like a good deal to me.

    •  Exactly. The leases provide (5+ / 0-)

      that if they don't drill, they have to pay a bonus to the US in order to hold the lease.  And if they don't drill after so many years, they lose the lease, so the price they paid to buy it and the annual bonuses are just money down the drain for the oil companies.

      Given what the leases provide, the idea that oil companies could drill on these lands profitably, but are just choosing not to, is just absurd.

      More likely, after a company buys a lease, the geologics are not clear enough to warrant a multi billion dollar investment (if it is a deepwater well in the Gulf, for example) or they have not managed the complex engineering necessary, or -- yes, this happens -- they are waiting on permits from the US.  Ask anyone doing business in the Gulf right now.  The US permitting process is MUCH slower than usual, and many of those leases which can be profitably drilled (the  company feels fairly comfortable it won't be a dry hole) are waiting on permits.

      •  The permitting process is not slower... (6+ / 0-)

        ...but environmental lawsuits have slowed some permits.

        Since the moratorium was lifted, some 66 Gulf drilling permits in water deeper than 500 feet have been issued and only one is pending. That's just slightly less than before the big spill.

        128 shallow water permits have been issued, with five pending.

        BP will soon have eight rigs in the deep water of the Gulf, two more than it had before the spill. Shell was approved for 10 new wells by the government, but those permits are being litigated in the appeals courts.

        Oil companies want additional lands under lease because there is always the possibility that the latest acquisition will prove to be better than what they have found in existing leases. A major reason for not drilling isn't because it won't be profitable but rather because it won't be as profitable as some other site.

        The cost of the leases are nothing compared with the cost of exploration and drilling, money from the petty cash drawer, relatively speaking.

        Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

        by Meteor Blades on Tue May 15, 2012 at 05:15:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  that is clearly not the understanding of those (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          businesses here in Louisiana that rely on Gulf drilling operations to survive.  See, for example, this article from the Houma paper.  It is typical of what I have heard over the past year from small businesses here in south Louisiana.  Part of it is the lingering effects of the moratorium (like the fact that rigs that left have not returned), part of it is that it takes longer to get permits now than it did before April 2010, although it is true that it has gotten better recently and the hope among businesses here is that, by early next year, drilling will be back to 2010 levels.

          •  Of course, the moratorium and permitorium... (4+ / 0-)

            ...had to do with the reality of the destruction caused by the Macondo spill. Many of the businesses hurt by that disaster have not recovered. The permit slowness that came about after the moratorium related to industry's getting up to speed with the new rules — utterly essential new rules (which, in my opinion, aren't strict enough). If there is another spill like BP's what will the oil-and-gas industry's whine be then?

            Houma has 5% unemployment, exceptionally good for the state and even better compared with the nation. By early next year, drilling activity will be more extensive than it was before the spill. Production will be down from its 2010 peak for a while still, it's true. But that slowdown is based on the reality of the spill. The idea that it should just business as usual after BP's cheapskate approach to safety is absurd.

            Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

            by Meteor Blades on Tue May 15, 2012 at 05:56:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Actually, if you read that second link (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              VClib, Meteor Blades, nextstep

              the huge pemit slowdown was in shallow water, not in deep water where Macando was.  It was so slow getting shallow water permits, which involve the independents more than the majors, that everybody referred to it as the "de facto moratorium" in shallow water.  The link to Macondo -- deepwater, which is far more expensive and risky -- is not all that direct.

              But, as that second link indcates, the "de facto moratorium" on shallow water permits has eased and things are getting better.

              As for the unemployment rate, WWL reported on that this morning.  Ironically, the BP money that came after the spill has a lot to do with that.  For example, the NOCVB was reporting this mornng that tourism is up this year in large part due to the BP money for the additional tourism campaigns,

        •  Best case, from the point of view of an oil/gas (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Meteor Blades, KenBee

          producer is to have some leased lands that are part of a find that someone else pays to discover, and within which your acerage actually ends up being the most productive.

          And everyone else wants to play you the same way.

          (Bye the bye, Interior has announced master agreements on federal lands in Utah within the past two months or so that provide for something like 8,000 new gas wells. Accordingly, equipment and trained crew shortages are no small part of the equation.)

          There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

          by oldpotsmuggler on Tue May 15, 2012 at 06:04:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Bonuses are paid as part of the price to obtain (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        leases, rents are paid for the life of the lease, and if and when production occurs royalties kick in.

        There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

        by oldpotsmuggler on Tue May 15, 2012 at 05:55:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  In general, private property owners get better (0+ / 0-)

      terms than the government does.

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Tue May 15, 2012 at 05:53:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The halls of Congress are littered with too many (5+ / 0-)

    critters in the pockets of Big Oil....

  •  How I wish for a time (6+ / 0-)

    when we could just laugh those egregious pieces of legislation off as nonsense, knowing that it would never get anywhere because the people that are elected to stand for and to protect the American people had just that one pure soulful thought in mind. Maybe someday.

    Great last line.

    Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act. - Al Gore

    by Burned on Tue May 15, 2012 at 04:41:20 PM PDT

  •  Yes, veto it Mr. President if it comes to that. (6+ / 0-)

    I also still like the idea he campaigned on in 2008 but has yet to act on -- the windfall profit tax on oil companies   Maybe he is saving it for closer to the election?

    I don't like the move to try to discourage the  public to keep out of the permitting process described in that bill.

  •  All of this makes me wonder why (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    divineorder, Eric Nelson, Roger Fox

    the Teapot Dome scandal was a scandal.
    Is it just that we get sold out with bald transparency now?

  •  I'm going to quibble (I'm guessin you agree) (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    divineorder, ladyjames
    In the long run, we need to wean the nation—and the rest of the world—off these fossil fuels insofar as they are burned for transportation, pumping massive gobs of CO2 into the atmosphere and altering our climate in detrimental ways we can both foresee as well as only guess at.
    I'm going to suggest we need to do this in the short run, actually.

    Which is why he ought to be stomping on those leases instead of auctioning them off.

  •  There may be enough republicans & Dems unwilling (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades, Larsstephens allow this. (maybe?)
    Hunters & anglers take aim at these bills that would roll back leasing reforms.
    Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership - Apr. 24, 2012

    Besides jeopardizing public lands fishing, hunting and recreation that help sustain rural economies, several provisions in the bills would restrict the public’s ability to weigh in on decisions affecting public lands, said Michael Saul, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation. Saul noted that under the bills, it would cost $5,000 for every protest of a lease or permit.

    “These bills are yet another giveaway to the booming, generously subsidized oil and gas industry by, among other things, erecting insurmountable financial barriers to the public’s right to object to leasing and permitting decisions,’’ Saul added. ``The bills also would restrict, perhaps unconstitutionally, courts’ abilities to remedy illegal agency actions and would pointlessly revoke sensible Interior Department reforms.” - emphasis added

    It's not (yet? - hopefully) the Senate or the President rejecting these disastrous exclusionary mineral/land grabs but it is some sportsman:
    The sportsmen’s coalition is led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited
    ...which means that if there is a backlash it won't be Democrats alone trying to prevent this crap. And these Sportsman don't sound happy losing any say over what goes.
     P.S. I checked both google and Bing to see if the Senate or the President has spoken out on this and the only mention of this with the President mentioned was this very Diary.  - Hopefully that will change
  •  Since there is little or no oil offshore (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eric Nelson, Larsstephens

    of the east coast, can we fill the continental shelf with 70 gigwatts of wind turbines?

    Based on HVDC projects like the Atlantic Wind Connection?

    a href=" target="_blank">Photobucket

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Tue May 15, 2012 at 06:16:31 PM PDT

    •  Roger - I thought there were some very (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roger Fox

      promising potential oil and natural gas deposits off some east coast locations.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Tue May 15, 2012 at 08:08:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  South of DE, promising, maybe. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib, pat bunny

        I looked at some USGS reports  a couple of years ago. My memory may be a little fuzzy, that said...

        North of DE, small plays, IIRC in the 1-4 millions of barrels.

        Promising, well, in the scale of things today.... there is some oil off the southern east coast that could be commercially viable in the future, but the industry is chasing plays that can yield a million barrels a day, or 600k or 300kBpd.

        Like in Alaska, the NPRA IIRC 55 Tcf of nat gas, 500 million barrels of recoverable oil (API over 40) out of 800 million.

        Plays of this quality and size get attention, not 3 million barrels off NJ.

        I think wiki covers it

        This represents approximately 4% of the total estimated recoverable oil resources .... in US Federal waters.

        So yeah east coast oil=meh.

        The Alberta Tar Sands, fully exploited, is predicted to produce 3.5 million barrels a day. For 80+ years. Just to depict the other side of the scale.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Wed May 16, 2012 at 10:25:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  sure, sure (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      askyron, Roger Fox

      don't come crying to me when a windspill destroys the entire coast.

  •  Hey! I try to put money in my savings account (0+ / 0-) the good times, too!

    What's wrong with that?


    "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions." - Thomas Jefferson

    by rfall on Tue May 15, 2012 at 06:18:23 PM PDT

  •  Great last sentence ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WakeUpNeo, divineorder

    I sometimes fantasize that the very poor living in shanty slums without public sanitation facilities, sewage and waste water treatment plants could sell their own human excrements and bring it to small biogas and fermentation facilities, where it would be converted to humus and biogas and given back to the people for gardening and cooking.

    The monetary incentive to incite the poor to make money out of their own excrements products could turn out a success, imo, at least the exrements wouldn't end up in the gutter near their crowded huts, tents or shacks and the poor could earn some pennies on a regular basis.

    Ok, may be it wouldn't work, but it's an idea.


    Gretchen :"Nach Golde drängt, am Golde hängt doch alles! Ach, wir armen!" (Goethe - Faust i)

    by mimi on Tue May 15, 2012 at 08:30:26 PM PDT

  •  Where's ALEC's bill (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    divineorder, happymisanthropy

    ..taking away the rights of landowners to sue for damages after the fossil-fuel extractors pollute it to death?


  •  Petroleum is too valuable (4+ / 0-)

    to keep burning it up in internal combustion engines.

    •  good point (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      we also need plastics, pharmaceticals, lubricants, etc. made from oil. Whatever can be switched over the fastest to renewables should be subsidized to delay the depletion and inevitable end of oil. And, for god's sake, start growing hemp on an industrial scale. It would make a huge difference.

      This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson

      by Karl Rover on Wed May 16, 2012 at 07:31:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If they have a lease, they can claim the reserves (4+ / 0-)

    They want the estimated reserves on their books. If they actually drill, they might find out there isn't as much oil or gas as they estimated.

    And of course their estimated reserves are never overstated ...

  •  MB- you are on a roll (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Meteor Blades

    You are writing one hard-hitting, fact-filled diary after another. For me, they are must reads. Keep up the good work. I'll keep forwarding them to friends

    Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. Horace Mann (and btw, the bike in kayakbiker is a bicycle)

    by Kayakbiker on Wed May 16, 2012 at 07:31:17 PM PDT

  •  Who is our Warren, Sanders, Obama of Environment (0+ / 0-)

    Other than the documentary by Josh Fox....

    Who is the big voice for U.S. out there - on environmental issues?

    PLEASE Stop Mitt (the Pitts) Romney from stealing the Presidential Election!

    by laserhaas on Wed May 16, 2012 at 11:13:13 PM PDT

  •  They're just letting the oil replenish itself (0+ / 0-)

    You have to let your oilfield lay fallow every other year or the oil-producing nutrients get exhausted.  Good oilfield rotation is one of the first lessons you learn in the drilling business.

    Romney '12: The Power of Crass Commands You!

    by Rich in PA on Thu May 17, 2012 at 03:51:18 AM PDT

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