Salazar report highlights unused oil and gas leases

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMarch 30, 2011
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released a report requested by President Barack Obama showing that two-thirds of all offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and half of all onshore leases on federal lands are not currently being used by the energy companies that purchased the leases.

In fact, the report reveals, the companies not only aren’t producing any oil and gas on the leases, they also aren’t currently conducting any exploration. The report is part of the administration’s attempt to counteract Republican accusations that Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, has implemented too many environmental restrictions on domestic oil and gas drilling and is costing the country jobs.

“We continue to support safe and responsible domestic energy production, and as this report shows, millions of acres that have already been leased to industry for oil and gas production sit idle,” Salazar said in a release.

“These are resources that belong to the American people, and they expect those supplies to be developed in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers. As we continue to offer new areas onshore and offshore for leasing, as we have done over the last two years, we will also be exploring ways to provide incentives to companies to bring production online quickly and safely.”

In Colorado and neighboring Utah, states with between 1 million and 5 million federal lease acres, only 32 percent and 22 percent of those acres, respectively, are currently being used for oil and gas production.

In Wyoming and New Mexico, both states with more than 5 million federal lease acres, only 33 percent and 69 percent of those acres, respectively, are being used for oil and gas production.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

In his weekly newsletter on Sunday, Republican Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner blamed the White House for rising energy costs.

“As is the case with jobs and the economy, Washington is a big part of the problem when it comes to the cost of energy,” Gardner said. “Over the last two years, the Obama administration has consistently blocked American energy production that would lower costs and create jobs.

“It has imposed a de facto moratorium on drilling in this country, and it tried to pass a national cap-and-trade tax on energy. The result of the administration’s freeze on energy production at home is that gas is on its way to $4 a gallon and unemployment remains high.”

Many analysts blame rising gasoline prices on a recovering global economy creating more demand around the world and ongoing political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East. Gardner goes on to tout the “American Energy Initiative – an ongoing effort to stop government policies that are driving up gas prices.”

Gardner and other House Republicans have been trying to gut the regulatory authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as block Salazar’s Wild Lands proposal for identifying and designating appropriate U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands for wilderness protection.

Overall, the Salazar report found that about 45 percent of all onshore leases and 57 percent of all leased acres are idle. Of the more than 38 million leased onshore acres, nearly 22 million acres are not being used. The Department of Interior is considering “policy options to provide companies with additional incentives for more rapid development of oil and gas resources.”

Denver-based Matt Garrington, deputy director of the Checks & Balances Project, said in a release that “it’s time to clear up the muddy waters around the drilling debate, and today’s report by the Obama administration does just that. The simple truth is approval rates for drilling permits are up, and industry lays idle hands on over 21 million acres of public lands.

“We should put an end to Big Oil’s speculation on our public lands and continue to move forward with responsible energy development.”

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