Unleash America's Energy Potential
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By Michael James Barton
The United States is the new Saudi Arabia. At least with regards oil and natural gas deposits.
To take full advantage of our nation's energy bounty, however, the federal government must allow the same kind of careful, responsible exploration and production now occurring on private lands to take place on public lands
The federal government owns about 650 million acres of property -- around
29 percent of the country. Over 35 percent of this land is in Alaska alone.
Yet the government inexplicably restricts oil and gas production to just
13 percent of our federally-owned land. As a result, we are failing to
reap the full benefit of innovative new technologies that have allowed
unprecedented access to underground oil and natural gas.
On private lands, however, the federal government has no authority to
block these job creating endeavors. New technologies utilized on private
land have created booming growth in an otherwise lackluster economy. At
the same time, they've reduced energy prices and our dependence on
Further, abundant low-cost natural gas is increasingly crowding out
dirtier, more traditional energy sources, bettering the environment.
Already, natural gas and oil are directly responsible for 9.8 million
jobs across the country, paying a total of $200 billion in wages. In
2010, during the worst of the Great Recession, the oil and gas industry
contributed $476 billion to the U.S. economy. Throughout the recession
and recovery, private-sector employment increased by only about 1
percent, but within the oil and natural gas sectors, it skyrocketed by 40
The future looks even brighter. The Energy Information Administration
predicts the United States will produce an additional 8.5 million barrels
of oil a day in 2014, increasing to 9.3 million barrels by 2015. Natural
gas production is forecast to enjoy a 56 percent increase between 2012
and 2014. If government policy doesn't restrict growth, oil and gas could
easily create an extra 1.4 million direct jobs in the United States by
The International Energy Agency has reported that the United States is on
track to become the top energy producer in the world by 2015. Moreover,
natural gas is fast coming to dominate the domestic energy marketplace,
contributing to a greener tomorrow.
Sadly, the federal government is doing little to encourage this domestic
energy bonanza. The Department of the Interior reports that the number of
drilling permits issued on federal lands was slashed by 36 percent
between 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service
has found that all of the increased production in crude oil between 2007
and 2012 occurred on non-federal lands. During that same period, the
federal share of U.S. crude-oil production dropped 7 percent, despite the
trumpeting about reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
In fact, in his recent State of the Union Address, Obama praised natural
gas as one of the key reasons we are "closer to energy independence than
we've been in decades," conveniently failing to mention that this
occurred despite his fierce opposition to drilling.
That comes at significant cost to Americans in this struggling economy.
An estimated 26 billion barrels of oil are trapped below federal lands,
waiting on permits. The Institute for Energy Research estimates that
federal lands hold $128 trillion in oil and gas resources, "about 8 times
our national debt." The 10-year royalties, rents, and lease bonuses alone
would earn the government around $150 billion total in revenue. And those
numbers draw off a widely-considered conservative estimate by the
Congressional Budget Office.
This public land must be developed responsibly, taking into consideration
both the environment and affected local communities. Though state
governments are best positioned to make responsible choices about permits
and drilling, current policy puts the authority in the hands of distant
federal regulators -- shutting out the local residents and community
organizers who are most directly affected by these policies.
As a result, some states are lagging behind as the key to their economic
future rests beneath residents' feet. In Texas, which does not allow the
federal government to own territory, oil and natural gas jobs are
booming. Meanwhile, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada are left behind in this
energy revolution because the federal government controls over 60 percent
of the total combined land mass of these states and refuses to approve
To fully realize our potential, the Obama administration must lift its
economic blockade of these affected states. We can't afford to miss out
on this golden opportunity to be energy independent, reduce our federal
debt, and create the jobs Americans desperately need.
Michael James Barton is the Director for Energy at ARTIS Research, and
speaks around the country on energy and energy security matters. He
previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the
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