Wilderness Society
DECEMBER 16, 2004
11:09 AM
CONTACT: Wilderness Society 
David Slater, 202-429-8441
BLM Issued Record Number of Drilling Permits in 2004, But Most Went Undrilled

WASHINGTON -- December 16 -- Although the oil and gas industry continues to plead for the Bureau of Land Management to speed up the processing and issuance of drilling permits, new information from the BLM shows a growing surplus of approved drilling permits. While drilling permit approvals on Western public lands increased by 62 percent in 2004, the number of new wells that were drilled declined by nearly 10 percent – despite high natural gas prices. In five Rocky Mountain state, 5,824 permits were approved by BLM in 2004 (compared to 3,580 in 2003) but only 2,489 were drilled by permittees (compared to 2,723 in 2003).

“This information confirms that the oil and gas industry has plenty of access to our public lands, despite their complaints to the contrary,” said The Wilderness Society’s Dave Alberswerth, who obtained the not-yet-released information from the BLM. “It also raises the question of why BLM continues to issue leases in sensitive areas like Utah and Colorado’s wild canyon country.”

BLM data also indicates that while more than 42,000,000 acres of public lands managed by the agency are currently under lease, less than 12,000,000 acres are actually in production. “With 30 million acres of leased land in the Rocky Mountain West not in production and the increasing surplus of drilling permits, there is no reason why the BLM must continue to include environmentally sensitive public lands in their regular oil and gas lease sales in Colorado Utah, and Wyoming,” said The Wilderness Society’s Pete Morton.

In 2004, for example, the BLM has auctioned for oil and gas development more than 39,000 acres in Colorado and more than 109,000 acres in Utah that were Congressionally sponsored for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.

“Although some level of leasing on our public lands is appropriate, this rising surplus of leases and drilling permits suggests that industry is simply stockpiling leases and drilling permits while the getting is good,” said Alberswerth. “Meanwhile, because the wilderness values of these lands will be destroyed once industry locks them up, we face the very real possibility of losing some of the West’s last remaining wild areas.”

According to The Wilderness Society’s analysis (immediately below) of BLM’s new data, between 2003 and 2004, the number of surplus drilling permits increased from 857 to 3,335 -- for a total of nearly 4,200 surplus drilling permits in just 2 years.

View a PDF of BLM’s spreadsheets, which show the number of “Applications for Permits to Drill” (APDs) issued and new wells “spudded” (completed) on BLM lands between 1994 and 2004.