Obama Administration Exaggerates Success in Oil and Gas Leases

Though an improvement from last year, the money made on federal leases is still far too low.

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This week, the Department of Interior lauded the administration's efforts to increase oil and gas leases on federal lands. Somehow they failed to mention that last year they set records for hardly issuing any leases at all. The omission wasn't lost on careful observers.

The Obama administration now claims that leasing on public lands has increased 20 percent in the year 2011, and Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes heralded the news by saying, "We intend to continue to build on that success [from 2011] this year."

[Read Thomas Pyle on how the government failed in energy policy in 2011]

Of course, the facts paint a much different picture than the administration's propaganda. In 2010, the Obama administration issued a historically low number of leases. While a 20 percent increase from a lower-than-average number is a good thing in any event, the idea that the Obama administration expects praise for hamstringing American energy less last year should receive a lukewarm response.

Furthermore, as the data from the Bureau of Land Management shows below, total onshore leases have gone down significantly under the current administration. In fact, the number of leases issued in 2010 were at the lowest level since the bureau started publishing the data:

The Interior Department also lauded the fact that in 2011, new lease sales brought in $256 million, up from $213 million in 2010. However, a closer examination of the issue shows that lease sales in offshore areas—which currently produce one-third of U.S. oil production and hold enormous resource potential—have in fact plummeted more than $9.4 billion since the Obama administration took office. To put this in perspective, the American taxpayer collected 258 times less revenue from offshore lease sales than they did during the last year of the Bush administration:

  1. 2008:  $9,480,806,620
  2. 2009:  $1,181,075,491
  3. 2010:     $979,569,294
  4. 2011:       $36,751,111
  5. The reality of the situation is that, because of anti-energy policies like the Gulf of Mexico moratorium and permitorium, domestic energy production is still in the process of recovery from a deep depression. Unfortunately, the administration hasn't quite learned its lesson. Deep water permits in the Gulf are being issued at less than half the rate of pre-moratorium levels, and shallow water permits are down 40 percent.

    [See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

    Looking at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's proposed five-year leasing plan for 2012–2017, it becomes clear that the administration has no plans to change course any time soon, either. The proposed plan fails to open up key resource areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, Eastern Gulf, and Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf, even though the administration had pledged to consider opening more critical offshore areas for leasing.

    With rising energy prices, the administration needs to do more than slightly loosen its tight grip on domestic energy production on federal lands.   

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