The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 
Ben Schreiber, Friends of the Earth, (202)
Dustin Mulvaney, EcoShift Consulting, (831)

Analysis: Leased Fossil Fuels on Public Lands, Oceans Will Be Producing Decades Beyond Paris Climate Targets

Study Supports Calls on President Obama to 'Keep It in the Ground’


A new analysis finds that coal, oil and gas already under lease on public lands and oceans in the United States will last far beyond the point scientists predict the world will exceed the temperature targets set out in the global climate agreement that was reached in Paris. The findings support the growing call to President Obama by hundreds of organizations to immediately halt new federal fossil fuel leasing -- a step that will keep up to 450 billion tons of potential carbon pollution from reaching the atmosphere.

Figure courtesy EcoShift Consulting. This image is available for media use.
The report, Over-Leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets, uses new U.S. Energy Information Administration data to estimate how long federal coal, oil and natural gas deposits already leased in the U.S. to the fossil fuel industry will last.
The results show that these deposits will be producing fossil fuels decades beyond the dates by which, at current global rates of emissions, it will be too late to avoid devastating global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"This report makes clear that it is irresponsible for President Obama to auction off any more fossil fuels on public lands and oceans if we are to live up to our global climate commitments," said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Future generations will live with the impact of decisions made by today's leaders, and President Obama can protect his legacy, and the planet, by halting more public fossil fuel leases now."
Among the findings in the analysis, which was conducted by EcoShift Consulting for the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth:
  • Federal crude oil already under lease will produce for the next 39 years, through 2055. These production horizons extend 34 years beyond the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold and 19 years beyond 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Federal coal already under lease will produce 25 more years, through 2041 or 20 years beyond the 1.5-degree threshold and 5 years beyond the 2-degree threshold.
  • Federal natural gas already under lease will produce 28 more years, through 2044. That is 23 years beyond the 1.5-degree threshold and 8 years beyond 2-degree threshold.
Importantly, each new federal lease and related infrastructure locks in fossil fuel dependence for at least a decade.
"Our analysis demonstrates the inconsistency of federal land and climate policy," said Dustin Mulvaney of EcoShift Consulting. "These projections show that there is already more public fossil fuel under lease to last well beyond the point at which it can be safely burned."
"Hopefully, we've heard the last time that Secretary Jewell or any other government official dismisses the keep it in the ground movement as naive," said Benjamin Schreiber, climate and energy program director for Friends of the Earth. ""This analysis makes it clear that not only does the government need to stop leasing but that much of the carbon that has already been leased must also stay in the ground."
These new findings add to prior research estimating that ceasing federal fossil fuel leasing would remove up to 450 GtCO2e from the threat of development (EcoShift 2015) and prevent 100 million tons in annual emissions through 2030 (SEI 2016).
The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf -- and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public land, which makes up about a third of the U.S. land area, and oceans like Alaska's Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and the fossil fuels beneath them are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

Over the past decade, the combustion of federal fossil fuels has resulted in nearly a quarter of all U.S. energy-related emissions. An 2015 report by EcoShift Consulting, commissioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, found that remaining federal oil, gas, coal, oil shale and tar sands that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. As of earlier this year, 67 million acres of federal fossil fuel were already leased to industry, an area more than 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park containing up to 43 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution.
Last year Sens. Merkley (D-Ore.), Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced the Keep It In the Ground Act (S. 2238) legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel non-producing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later President Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, "Because ultimately, if we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."
Download the September "Keep It in the Ground" letter to President Obama.

Download Grounded: The President's Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases).

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels) and The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions fact sheet.

Download Public Lands, Private Profits (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).
Download the Center for Biological Diversity's formal petition calling on the Obama administration to halt all new offshore fossil fuel leasing.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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