The federal government's ownership of offshore and onshore lands bearing coal, oil, and gas gives it a dominating role in future domestic energy supply. Some may welcome this, others deplore it, but neither attitude will alter the importance to the economy of the terms and the pace of the federal government's leasing of its fossil fuel resources.
The concern with federal land leasing is not, of course, new. Without going back into more remote history, it is probably fair to say that the formation of the Public Land Law Review Commission in 1965 marked the beginning of what has proved to be an extended period of escalating interest in assuring "that the public lands of the United States shall be (a) retained and managed or (b) disposed of, all in a manner to provide the maximum benefit for the general public." While the commission report may not have stimulated as much response as intended, the management of federal leases for the production of oil and gas from the outer continental shelf or the onshore production of western coal and oil shale has attracted the attention of a large number of federal employees charged with management responsibilities for retained lands. In addition, a number of resource scholars have been intrigued by an opportunity to study an interesting array of complex resource allocation and distribution issues.
The manner and pace in which government develops publicly owned fuel resources affects the energy supply stream from both public and private lands, the behavior of the energy marketplace, how well we are able to deal with the problem of threatening energy shortages, and what price levels might be called for to cope with them. Simultaneously, there is the necessary consideration of the public's sharing in the resource values being severed from the land as well as in bearing the burden of uncertainty. The proper balancing of rewards and risks is a delicate task.