Accelerated Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing May Not Occur as Quickly as Anticipated

EMD-82-34: Published: Feb 8, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 1982.

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One of the goals of the current Administration is to encourage the development of energy resources on federal lands by providing greater access to those lands and by streamlining the leasing process. In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the key initiatives either taken or planned by the Administration and progress to date with respect to onshore oil and gas leasing.

GAO found that the Administration has not progressed as quickly as anticipated toward its goal, and little additional public land has been leased to date. However, the Department of the Interior has taken steps to make more land available for leasing in the future, including initiatives to: (1) expedite congressionally mandated withdrawal reviews; and (2) streamline internal land status record-keeping procedures. In addition, progress has been made by Interior to implement congressional mandates opening Alaskan lands for leasing. Other initiatives by Interior have been less successful. For example, the acquisition of over 6 million acres of military lands may not soon result in many new lease agreements due to litigation and doubtful consent from military base commanders, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has decided not to change its policy prohibiting leasing of wildlife refuge lands in the lower 48 states. The basic onshore oil and gas leasing system regulations have remained unchanged from previous administrations, and recent efforts to streamline procedures have been initiated by Interior itself. It is too early to determine whether the Administration's own changes will accelerate the leasing process. Because continuing serious problems with the onshore oil and gas leasing system and poorly maintained land status records make it difficult for BLM to process backlog lease applications quickly, it is doubtful whether efforts to speed up access to federal lands can significantly increase the amount of leasing under the present system.

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