Abundant Energy Supplies Off-Limits

Article excerpt


Good news: The more we look for oil and natural gas in the United States, the more we find. That might even be great news if so much of the energy wasn't out of reach. According to a new Interior Department report, there are substantial onshore energy deposits on federal lands. A companion study of offshore energy reserves released earlier this year reached the same conclusion.

But both reports found much of this energy is either explicitly off-limits or hampered by regulatory constraints that effectively make it so. At least part of the solution to high oil and natural gas prices lies right under our feet, but Congress has failed to change the laws and regulations that keep this domestic energy locked up.

Federal lands are critical because most of America's onshore energy is in the West and Alaska, where more than half the land is under federal control.

How much energy are we talking about? The federal lands studied are "estimated to contain 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 21 billion barrels of oil, which represents 76 percent of onshore federal oil and gas resources," the Interior Department found. That 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could supply all of America's households for 39 years, and 21 billion barrels of oil represents more than 30 years' worth of current Saudi imports.

At the very least, bringing this energy online would have taken the edge off the price spikes consumers suffered in recent years and keep a lid on runaway prices for decades.

But, Interior says, we can access just 3 percent of onshore federal oil and 13 percent of onshore federal gas under standard lease terms. In other words, only this tiny percentage of energy can be accessed without serious legal or regulatory impediments. In addition, "46 percent of onshore federal oil and 60 percent of onshore federal gas may be developed subject to additional restrictions, including no surface occupancy."

Most disturbing of all, "51 percent of the oil and 27 percent of the gas are [currently] closed to leasing. …