WASHINGTON — The Obama administration continued to feud with the oil and gas industry on Tuesday about the amount of public land leased for drilling that's sitting idle.
The U.S. Department of Interior released a report saying that 26 million acres of offshore acreage leased for drilling have no production or exploration activities; that's 72 percent of the leased land. On shore, according to the report, 20 million acres of public land — 56 percent of the land leased for drilling — has no activity.
The report cites 7,000 approved permits for drilling on federal and tribal lands that have not been used for exploration.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the administration has made millions of acres of public land available for energy production “and we also want companies to develop the tens of millions of acres they've already leased but have left sitting idle in order to further reduce our reliance on foreign oil as quickly as possible.”
Salazar said, “These lands and waters belong to the American people, and they expect those energy supplies to be developed in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers.”
The administration released a similar report last year amid energy industry complaints that too much federal land was off-limits to drilling.
Industry groups reacted strongly to the new report, saying it was misleading and failed to explain the process required to drill once a lease is secured. They said federal agencies and outside groups opposed to drilling were responsible for much of the delay.
Kathleen Sgamma, a vice president at the Western Energy Alliance, said half of the non-producing acreage is attributable to the Interior Department's “redundant regulations and bureaucratic delays.”
Sgamma said some acreage would never be developed because exploration on it wouldn't be economically viable with today's technology.
But, she said, “The truth is that companies are doing all they can to develop federal energy resources, but a lease is not a green light to produce — it's a definite maybe and the first step in a long, expensive process fraught with bureaucratic red tape.”
About the report
In the report, the Interior Department acknowledged that activity on some leases is delayed by protests and said the Bureau of Land Management is hoping to narrow lease sales to parcels “in appropriate locations and avoid the contention and litigation that have characterized many development proposals over the past several years.”
Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said the administration last week approved drilling on leases in Utah after a four-year delay in granting