NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Not Increase Oil Exploration On Federal Lands?

May 22, 2001

The federal government owns vast expanses of lands in Alaska and Western states -- such as Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. The potential for oil under those lands is enormous. The country needs this energy. So why not open them up for exploration?

The answer is political, not economic. Environmental extremists would raise such a hue and cry that it may be politically impossible.

  • Lands under the Interior Department's venue now produce 28 percent of the U.S. energy supply.
  • Areas thought to contain oil, gas and coal deposits include Colorado's White River National Forest, Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante, the Copper River Delta on the Gulf of Alaska and Wyoming's Red Desert.
  • In the Rocky Mountain states alone, public lands hold 137 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that is either restricted or off limits completely -- enough to meet the nation's needs for six years.
  • The continental U.S. holds some 22 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S geological survey.

Most voters in Rocky Mountain states strongly support the economic development that drilling would bring to faltering local economies.

While the Bush administration's Department of the Interior wants to listen to both the Sierra Club and the local Chamber of Commerce in making decision as to which of these lands might be opened up, that approach scares environmentalist groups.

They don't want to share the platform.

Source: Laura Cohn, "The Arctic Isn't the Only Flash Point," Business Week, May 28, 2001.


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