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Sierra Daily

May 15, 2012

Sitting on a Gusher

Oil offshore  iStock_000018294828XSmalWell over two thirds of federal offshore acreage already leased by the oil industry is sitting idle, according to a report issued today by the Department of the Interior. “Out of nearly 36 million acres leased offshore, only about 10 million acres are active—leaving nearly 72 percent of the offshore leased area idle,” reads the report.  (More than half of leased onshore acreage in the Lower 48 also remains untapped.) Interior’s definition of “idle” is pretty much all-encompassing: “Neither producing nor currently subject to approved or pending exploration or development plans.” 

For its part the industry called the Department of Interior report “a political ploy.” According to American Petroleum Institute  President and CEO Jack Gerard, “The oil and natural gas industry explores its leases as quickly as possible, paying rent and other fees as it does so, and returns tracts to the government that do not contain economically recoverable amounts of oil and natural gas.”

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management is proceeding apace with its November 2012 auction of oil and gas leases on 7 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska. The 23.5 million acre reserve with the depressingly industrial moniker actually supports the calving grounds of the largest caribou herd in the U.S., the highest concentration of grizzly bears and wolverines in the Arctic, and Teshekpuk Lake, the most significant wetland complex in America. A public comment period on the agency's draft management plan for the reserve is open until June 1.

Photo by iStock/DraganSaponjic.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked at the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.” 

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