DENVER February 19, 2021 – The Center for Western Priorities today released an interactive report examining the millions of acres of idle leases stockpiled by the oil and gas industry. The report maps out oil and gas leases and finds that the oil industry is currently sitting on 9.9 million acres of idle leases across ten Western states—47.4 percent of all leases in the region.

Data current as of Jan. 21, 2021

These leases lock up valuable public land from proactive management for recreation or conservation, while producing no energy and generating only $1.50 per acre for taxpayers annually. At the same time, these leases reveal the disingenuous nature of the oil industry’s campaign to convince the public that a recent federal leasing pause will mean the end of oil drilling and cost thousands of jobs.

In January, President Biden ordered a pause on new federal oil and gas leases while the Interior Department evaluates the impact of America’s public lands drilling program on our climate, communities, and taxpayers. This commonsense first step begins a long-overdue process of reform for the current broken, century-old leasing system. President Biden’s order does not ban new drilling or prevent oil companies from using their existing leases or drilling permits. The analysis reveals millions of acres of idle leases available to drill in the West during the leasing pause. The industry also has over 7,600 approved, but unused, drilling permits. While the industry may be fearmongering about the temporary federal leasing pause in public, they are internally aware that their public lands stockpile of leases and permits is more than adequate to tide them over for years to come.

The Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Policy Director Jesse Prentice-Dunn:

“The oil and gas industry has spent decades taking advantage of a rigged system and stockpiling leases on American public lands. At this point, the industry isn’t even using almost half of the acreage they have leased—an area larger than Maryland and Delaware combined. 

“The oil and gas industry is well aware that the current leasing system is tilted in their favor, and they’ve spent millions on lawyers and lobbyists to keep it that way. As this analysis shows, their recent campaign against President Biden’s commonsense leasing pause is nothing more than a disingenuous ploy to prevent a broken system from being fixed.”

The “Oil Industry’s Public Lands Stockpile” report provides statistics on idle leasing in each Western state, in addition to interactive maps and case studies of landscapes locked up by the oil and gas industry’s stockpile of idle leases. The report updates part of an earlier geospatial analysis and storymap created in collaboration with The Wilderness Society, “America’s Public Lands Giveaway,” which examined the broken leasing system and instances of public land leases sold for bargain prices.


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