Since 2003, production of coal, gas and oil on federal lands has fallen by 21 percent, according to government data. But nearly three-quarters of that declined occurred since 2009 — under the watch of the Obama administration.
The Energy Information Administration reported last week that total fossil fuel energy production on federal lands declined for the third year in a row, despite a slight uptick in onshore oil production last year.
Federal lands fossil fuel production declined 21 percent from 2003 to 2013, reports EIA, mainly due to “a steady decline in federal offshore natural gas production between FY 2003 and FY 2013 and the 9% drop in coal production from federal lands in FY 2013 from FY 2012.”
But 15.5 percent of the 21 percent decline has occurred since 2009, when President Obama took office. This means that nearly three-quarters of the decline in fossil fuel production on federal lands has occurred under Obama’s watch.
Oil production on federal lands did actually increase slightly last year, but falling coal and natural gas production meant that government-controlled lands saw a 7 percent decrease in fossil fuels production. This was also accompanied by a 7 percent decrease in the sales of fossil fuels from federal and Indian lands.
Republicans have hammered the president for blocking off large areas of federal lands and offshore areas to energy development such as oil and gas drilling. Reports of decreasing sales and production numbers on federal lands only served to intensify Republican criticisms of the administration’s energy policy.
“American families cannot afford four-dollar gasoline prices, but instead of increasing access to our own energy resources right here at home, President Obama is placing them off-limits,” Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings said in a statement.
“The Obama Administration is restricting American energy production wherever and whenever possible and these new numbers from EIA are further proof of that,” Hastings added. “President Obama has imposed a defacto drilling moratorium on new offshore drilling, canceled both onshore and offshore lease sales, and imposed layer upon layer of red-tape to make it harder to develop our energy resources.”
But while federal lands have seen a decreasing share of fossil fuels production, state and private lands have seen energy production boom — particularly the oil and gas industry.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and horizontal drilling have allowed companies to access shale formations deep underground which has dramatically increased U.S. oil and gas production, making the U.S. the world’s largest fossil fuels producer.
Production on federal lands, however, has not kept pace with that of state and private lands. One reason is because of the favorable geography of states in terms of where shale formations are located.
Another reason is policy. It’s much easier to get approval to drill on state and private lands versus federal lands. On federal lands, for example, getting a permit approved for drilling took 194 days on average last year as opposed to five days in Texas and 25 days in North Dakota.
There is also the issue of environmental assessments. These are required to be done under the National Environmental Policy Act and take about 4.6 years to complete on average. These NEPA analyses are also open to challenge from environmental groups that oppose drilling on federal lands.
NEPA lawsuits cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The Justice Department said NEPA litigation cost the government $22 million in attorney fees for 1,022 cases between 2009 and 2013 — a lowball estimate because there are no government-wide figures for NEPA litigation.
While fossil fuel production on federal lands is falling, the Obama administration has pushed green energy production on federal lands as part of its overall agenda to fight global warming.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are 23 green energy projects awaiting approval for deployment on federal lands representing 5,300 megawatts. Already about 18 solar, wind and geothermal projects have been approved by BLM covering thousands of acres of federal lands with the capacity to produce 8,725 megawatts of power.
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