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With plentiful reserves of coal, natural gas, uranium, and oil, the U.S. is quite literally the land of opportunity. America has an abundance of natural resources, including sufficient energy reserves to provide Americans with affordable, reliable energy for several centuries. For instance, pundits and energy experts call America “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

In effect the U.S. is also the Saudi Arabia of oil and the Russia of natural gas. For more than a decade, the U.S. has been the world’s largest natural gas producer.  And, according to a report from the federal government’s Energy Information Administration in September 2018, U.S. crude oil production surpassed that of Saudi Arabia and Russia.[1] Human ingenuity, technological innovation, and the power of the free market have predictors of imminent resource exhaustion to be dead wrong.

The energy boom has produced astounding economic benefits and put money back into the wallets of American families.[2] Energy production created more opportunities for people directly associated with the extraction including data scientists, engineers, and geologists. Moreover, the energy boom provides more employment opportunities for local businesses near extraction sites such as hardware stores, hotels, laundromats, restaurants, and so forth. Even for businesses not directly or indirectly associated with energy production, cheaper energy lowers the cost of doing business. Nearly every business in the U.S. uses energy as an input cost for its product, whether it is as simple as paying the electricity bill or filling up a vehicle with gasoline or diesel to transport goods. Cheaper energy means companies across the country would incur lower operational costs and therefore have more resources to invest in labor and capital. Chemical companies are investing heavily in the U.S., citing the affordable and abundant natural gas as their motivation. As of September 2018, the American Chemistry Council reports that the industry is cumulatively investing over $200 billion on 333 projects in the U.S.[3]

The story of America’s energy renaissance is made more amazing by the fact that federal energy policy actively hindered this energy renaissance as it was taking place. U.S. energy companies and energy consumers are fortunate that much of the shale oil and shale gas deposits in the U.S. lie beneath state and privately owned lands.  Federally owned lands are full of energy potential, but a bureaucratic regulatory regime has mismanaged land use for decades.

Not only is there lost economic opportunity but federal and state governments are missing a significant revenue generator.  Increasing production on federal lands and in America’s territorial waters on the Outer Continental Shelf would increase revenues from bonus bids for new leases, royalties and rents.  Money collected from onshore and offshore mineral leasing is one of the largest sources of non-tax revenue for the federal government. Most of the natural resource value on federal lands and waters comprises of coal, oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government has collected royalties from leasing the rights to extract more than 70 different minerals.[4] Renewable energy projects on federal lands can also generate revenue for the Treasury. The royalties collected from mineral production on federal land and offshore are split amongst the general treasury, state governments and other federal programs like the Reclamation Fund and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.[5]

How much higher is difficult to project. The ever-changing dynamics of energy markets and energy prices make it difficult to know just how much money the Treasury could collect from mineral extraction on federal lands and waters.  Nevertheless, estimating the amount of natural resources that lie beneath federal soil and off America’s coasts and examining trends in production will present a better picture.  Knowing these resources exist is only a small part of the story. Overcoming policy, regulatory and economic obstacles is the bigger battle. Winning in the court of public opinion will also be critical. Ultimately, creating a framework that minimizes the federal government’s role in energy production will help the federal government generate the most revenue.

An Estimates of Resources and Historical Trends

The federal estate is massive, consisting of some 635 million to 640 million acres and hundreds of millions of subsurface mineral rights below the surface and offshore. According to the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “These surface lands are located primarily in the West, but the bureau has a national presence with responsibilities for some 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate underlying both Federal and non-Federal lands.”[6] Offshore, the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf  (OCS) is 2.3 billion acres.[7]

Onshore and offshore, these areas are incredibly resource rich.  The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates OCS resources to 89.82 billion barrels of oil and 327.42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.[8] As the Institute for Energy Research highlights, other federal assets beneath the ground include, 10.4 billion barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 896 million barrels of oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Naval Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, 982 billion barrels of oil shale in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming and 957 billion short tons of coal in the lower 48 states.[9]

A 2012 study from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that immediately opening federal areas to oil and gas leasing could generate $150 billion in government proceeds over a 10-year period.[10] Other economic analyses look at the dynamic effects of increased energy production for coal, oil and natural gas on federal lands, which includes revenues from royalties, bonus bids and rents but also higher tax revenues from increased economic activity. A study commissioned by the Institute for Energy Research in 2015 projects that the federal government would collect $3.9 trillion in proceeds over a 37-year period.[11] A 2017 study by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity projects $3 trillion in government revenues over the next 25 years.[12]

It is important to take these estimates with a grain of salt. Estimating the amount of money the federal government would generate from maximizing energy extraction on federal lands is tricky business. Royalties make up a large percentage of the revenue collected by the federal government. In Fiscal Year 2016, royalties comprised of 86 percent of the revenue collected from energy production on federal land. Over half of the total revenue came solely from crude oil royalties. Because the royalty revenue changes based on the amount of the resource produced and the value of the resource, the money collected by federal and state governments can change quite rapidly and unpredictably.

For instance, the revenues generated from coal, oil, natural gas, and hydrocarbon gas liquids and renewables was nearly $6 billion in FY2016.[13]  When oil prices were higher, in Fiscal Year 2013, the federal government collected over $14 billion.  One could look at price projections and resource production 10, 20 or 50 years into the future.  But given the unpredictability of the supply and demand of energy, the fast changing nature of technological innovation, the uncertainty of global economic growth, doing so is exceedingly difficult.


Examining energy production trends over the past decade provides a snapshot of where we are today and, if the status quo, remains the same, where we could be headed in the near future. The Department of Interior compiles statistics on mineral extraction on federal and non-federal lands. There are several trends in the production of coal, oil and natural gas on federal lands over the since. Production of coal decreased by a little over 161 million tons, for a decrease of 33.1% since 2008. There was a slight uptick in 2017 as U.S. coal exports made up for the decline in domestic coal consumption.[14] Production of gas decreased by about 2 billion mcf, for a decrease of 31.6%. However, production of oil on federal lands increased by 261 million barrels, for an increase of a robust 47.4%.  Although the Trump administration has made more areas available for oil production, much of the increase over the past few years has been a response to changes in price, not policy.[15]

Production on Federal Land Nationwide (We could do this for other minerals if we want).

Year Coal (tons) Gas (mcf) Oil (barrels)
2008 487,122,754 6,331,330,035 550,560,363
2009 448,430,668 6,530,272,914 697,351,223
2010 456,886,171 6,258,643,776 697,675,097
2011 451,870,464 5,762,724,493 618,387,136
2012 422,502,475 5,389,365,059 613,225,974
2013 398,003,428 4,957,977,748 621,754,990
2014 409,345,817 4,861,494,014 696,073,560
2015 375,739,784 4,829,206,002 753,627,687
2016 291,945,177 4,540,847,113 765,646,813
2017 326,073,802 4,327,941,937 811,690,488

Since 2008, we have seen a steady decline in revenue from extracting natural resources from federal lands. Revenue from coal decreased by almost 584 million dollars, for a decrease of 51.1%. Revenue from natural gas liquids decreased by about 320 million dollars, for a decrease of 58.4%. Despite increases in production, low oil caused revenues from production on federal land to decline. Revenue from oil decreased by about 1.86 billion dollars, for a decrease of 31.9%. And revenue from gas on federal lands dropped by a staggering 4.4 billion dollars, for a decrease of 81.6%.

Year Coal Gas Natural Gas Liquids Oil
2008 1,141,536,198 5,385,207,592 547,977,102 5,831,616,022
2009 1,082,336,467 1,879,219,617 234,336,583 2,964,214,261
2010 876,928,092 2,462,283,467 428,203,930 5,103,466,729
2011 1,039,093,501 2,189,563,164 569,815,462 6,425,005,851
2012 1,347,968,696 1,299,257,594 550,660,970 6,639,332,936
2013 1,132,819,110 1,577,715,131 398,222,783 7,037,172,026
2014 1,174,391,285 1,745,849,680 475,418,540 7,177,335,472
2015 1,131,933,770 1,099,725,438 179,655,789 4,008,214,842
2016 828,180,683 774,587,153 175,818,653 2,947,777,572
2017 557,816,673 991,482,004 228,126,185 3,972,093,132

Prices alone are not what dictates energy production on federal lands.  A number of policy-based and regulatory obstacles stand in the way for energy producers to leverage America’s energy abundance.  They include:

1.) Complex laws that guide offshore drilling ignore market realities.

To extract energy in America’s territorial waters, it is a multi-step, multi-year process.  In 1953, Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act (SLA), granting state rights to natural resources (which includes oil, gas, minerals, and seafood, as well as other marine and plant life) for three nautical miles off the coast.[16] Texas and the west coast of Florida have ownership rights extending nine nautical miles based for historical reasons.[17] Title II of the SLA not only grants the states the title to the resources but also authorizes the states to manage and develop them. Also passed in 1953, the SLA and the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act (OCSLA) (Title III) established federal government jurisdiction of minerals and resource development beyond the limit of state jurisdiction.[18] The OCSLA authorized the DOI to offer leases for energy development through a competitive auction process, taking into account environmental concerns, state and local input, and other “national needs.”[19] Passed in 2006, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) allocates a portion of the offshore royalty revenues collected to coastal restoration and protection and stipulates that Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi collect 37.5 percent of all qualified OCS revenues.  The GOMESA also prohibits oil and gas leasing 125 miles off the Florida coastline in the Eastern Planning Area and a section of the central planning area until 2022.

Because the development of the five-year program is comprehensive and includes multiple public comment periods, merely drafting and finalizing the plan is a two- or three-year process. For instance, the most recent finalized offshore leasing program under the Obama Administration for 2017–2022 began with a Request for Information in June 2014; former Interior Secretary Sally Jewel approved the program in January 2017.[20]  Mineral and natural resource extraction is a time-consuming and capital-intensive operation. A company must win the lease sale or acquire the mineral rights, obtain the permits, conduct seismic surveys, build the necessary infrastructure, and drill and case the well. The entire process can take multiple years and the oil and gas industry makes investments considering multiple time horizons. However, the current five-year planning process is not the way commercial energy investments should be (let alone are, in reality) determined.

The five-year planning process takes a static approach to dynamic energy markets. The federal government’s current policy disregards how markets function. Energy markets are exceedingly complex and prices play a critical role by efficiently allocating resources to their highest valued use. Investment decisions change as prices change. Oil prices can fluctuate significantly from one month to the next, let alone over a five-year window. For example (after adjusting for inflation):

  • From 2007–2008, the price of oil increased from $66 per barrel to $94 per barrel.
  • From 2008–2009, the price dropped to $56 dollars per barrel, before increasing to $74 per barrel in 2009–2010.
  • From 2011–2013, the price increased to above $94 per barrel.
  • From 2014–2015, the price decreased from $87 per barrel to $44 per barrel.
  • By 2016, significant increases in supply and less-than-projected demand pushed the price down to $38 per barrel.[21]

Businesses should be able more efficiently respond to such fluctuations in price rather than waiting on a lengthy planning process and specific lease-sale schedule. As energy companies plan for the near- and long-term, the federal government should conduct lease sales if a commercial interest exists and it does not jeopardize national security. It is incumbent upon the company to develop the resources safely and responsibly.

Productively, the Trump administration is taking action to open areas previously off-limits to oil and exploration, which could generate significant revenues for the Treasury.  Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, with a commitment to the energy dominance narrative, wants to capitalize on America’s energy abundance in federal waters. In January 2018, DOI recently issued its draft National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019–2024.

The proposal lists 47 potential lease sales off the coasts of Alaska, and in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, and would make more than 90 percent of the total federal acreage available for exploration and development.[22] As Katherine MacGregor, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, said at the time, “This proposed plan shows our commitment to a vibrant offshore energy economy that supports the thousands of men and women working in the offshore energy industry, from supply vessels to rig crews.”[23] While not all areas will be in the final plan, opening new areas to offshore development will results in more energy, more jobs and consequently, more revenues for the federal government.

2.) Multi-use, federal micromanagement of local choices, and federal inflexibility on federal lands: The case in Colorado

On land, federal ownership and control results in the same static approach to very dynamic energy markets that occurs offshore. A recent oil and natural gas discovery in Colorado illustrates the problems and inflexibility due to federal management.

In June 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) discovered that Colorado has 40 times more technically recoverable natural gas resources than previously estimated. The discovery makes Colorado’s Mancos Shale in the Piceance Basin the second-largest known shale reserve in the country (after Pennsylvania), assessed by the USGS with over 66 trillion cubic feet of gas, 74 million barrels of shale oil, and 45 million barrels of natural gas liquids.[24] Prior to this most recent discovery, the USGS estimated that the area held only 1.6 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas and provided no estimates for oil.[25] Yet these vast resources are not reflected in recent federal land-management plans for the region, which could be in effect for over a decade.

Though the economic potential for Colorado’s natural resources is great, federal bureaucracy stifles development by drastically curtailing where and how companies can access oil and gas resources in the Colorado Mancos Shale region. Much of the Mancos Shale falls under lands managed by the Forest Service (FS, under the Department of Agriculture), which collaborates with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM, under the Department of the Interior) to manage oil and gas resources. The Forest Service defines the lands available and the conditions for oil and gas development (among other uses) in management plans. The BLM then conducts and administers leases. Such plans generally govern resource management between 15 years and 20 years.

In December 2015, the Forest Service finalized its resource management plan for new leases in the White River National Forest, one of several in the Mancos Shale region. The plan significantly restricts the land that is available for resource development. Of the 2.3 million acres, the Forest Service only makes 194,100 acres accessible for oil and gas extraction.[26] This is half the acreage that was available under the last plan finalized in 1993, and just over 8 percent of the total available acreage. Based on this plan, the BLM published a final environmental impact statement in August 2016, proposing to cancel 25 of the 65 already existing leases on that land; the remaining leases will be modified to meet the Forest Service’s requirements for new leases.[27]

In the Forest Service’s final oil and gas plan in December 2015, Forest Manager Scott Fitzwilliams wrote, “If new information or technological advances show the need to revisit this decision, I have the authority to do so. But at this time, I have decided to take a more conservation-minded approach to future gas leasing on the White River National Forest.”[28] Since then, the USGS has announced its discovery of 40 times more technically recoverable natural gas than previously estimated. Taking that second look is exactly what some Members in Congress are asking the BLM to do for existing leases there.[29] The same should be done elsewhere. There are 69 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas resources on federal (onshore) lands, and there are 5.3 billion barrels of proved oil resources on federal (onshore) lands.[30] Yet the Obama Administration has directly (as in the case of the White River National Forest) and indirectly (via lease auction, moratoriums, and permit delays) restricted access to these resources.[31]

Because land owned by the federal government is abundant and diverse, grazers, farmers, tourists, hunters, and other individuals and groups have an interest in how the federal agencies manage the White River National Forest and other federal lands like it. For that reason, Congress passed multiple land-use laws to guide federal agencies. The Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act, the National Forest Management Act for the Forest Service, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) for BLM are some of the principle guides for agencies on multiple land use. In practice, however, political agendas and bureaucratic priorities often cast interested parties to the side, limiting (in some instances prohibiting) certain economic activity, such as energy development.

For example, the parameters established in the FLPMA of multi-use, sustained yield, and environmental protection guide the BLM’s approach to land management.[32] Though these parameters may sound accommodating to all interested parties, each entails value choices which communities might prioritize and define differently than the federal government. The federal government is not in a good position, nor should it be the role of the federal government, to discern how these parameters ought to be applied on the ground and in a variety of communities.

Colorado is just one of many examples of the federal government’s ill-fitting management. The Forest Service’s White River resource management plan is a static approach to an otherwise dynamic environment and industry, as the USGS discovery months later showed. It offers a misguided notion of environmental stewardship, presuming that no management is good management and “keeping it in the ground” is the best way to protect the environment. Rather than accommodating multiple uses, the primary vision guiding the decision—what Fitzwilliams and the Forest Service called “environmentally preferable”—was one allowing “no new leasing.”[33] Management alternatives seem to have been measured according to how closely they aligned with this standard of “no use” rather than a standard of multi-land use.

Hardly an isolated problem, this particular debate over multi -land use in this area of Colorado has been brewing at least since 2010 when the Forest Service first began publically reviewing the White Forest management plan.[34] A particularly controversial area is the Thompson Divide, where other interest groups have protested against further oil and gas leasing, though wells have been operating there since 1947.[35] Executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, Zane Kessler, says that “this is about local control and a community’s desire to determine its own future” rather than outright opposition to the oil and gas industry.[36] But federal management of the land neither meaningfully fosters local and state control nor encourages more creative solutions at the local level between apparently competing uses for the land. Instead, Senator Michael Bennet (D–CO) has taken up the issue by introducing the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act to prohibit oil and gas resource development.

Similar debates have surfaced in other issues too, such as the Department of the Interior’s regulatory scheme for greater-sage-grouse habitat. In this instance, the Department of the Interior did not seek meaningful or timely participation from local commissioners in nearby Garfield County, despite the extensive local efforts to restore habitat and grouse populations while also accommodating multi-use purposes.[37] It appears that national environmental groups that agreed with the Interior’s approach did receive greater access to federal decision makers, however.

These examples illustrate the larger systemic problem of federal land management and its multi-use land strategy. Local land-use issues, and undoubtedly highly contentious ones, should not need to wait for the U.S. Congress or a federal agency to weigh multiple land-use choices. Federalizing land management instantly politicizes decisions on a national level. Colorado has nine Representatives and Senators, and yet 526 other Congressmen and the Interior have a say in how federal land is used there. Unsurprisingly, larger political battles muddy local issues and concerns. Too often, Congress forces decisions through “must pass” legislation, such as omnibus spending bills, rather than considering land issues on their own merits.[38] In other instances, a President can unilaterally designate as land a national monument without say from Members or states, adding additional land-use restrictions in the process.[39]

This Washington-centric approach to management stifles creative, collaborative solutions to competing interests that could be resolved at local, state, or regional levels without the added baggage of national political battles and federal regulatory processes. While states and local communities may not always make perfect decisions, the best environmental policies are site-specific and situation-specific and emanate from liberty.[40]

3.) The problem of federal ownership and treating energy as if it is a public good.

Oil and gas production is booming in some regions of the U.S., while the rate of production in others has slowed or even decreased. The divergent trajectories in production primarily boil down to one ****: ownership. Much of the growth is occurring on private and state-owned lands. Despite the tremendous abundance of oil and gas beneath federal lands and off America’s coasts, oil and gas output on federally owned lands has been mostly stagnant or declining. Companies operating in the U.S. have been the world’s largest producers of oil and natural gas for six years; as a result, the nation is reaping the tremendous economic benefits that such large-scale production generates. This success emerged organically from innovation in the private marketplace to unlock energy resources formerly thought inaccessible rather than from any specific government policy to promote these technologies and processes.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) congressional declaration of policy states that the Outer Continental Shelf is a “vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public, which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development, subject to environmental safeguards, in a manner which is consistent with the maintenance of competition and other national needs.”[41] The phrase “held by the federal government for the public” is at the crux of the problem. The federal government should not hold mineral rights for the public.

The establishment of national needs, national interest, or public interest determinations is broadly problematic for energy development and projects. Decisions that should be left to the private sector and by price signals are instead left to the federal government. For instance, national and public interest determinations have been manipulated into pretexts to obstruct energy development and energy infrastructure.[42]

Unlike air or national security, minerals are not a public good. Public goods are non-rival and non-excludable. A non-rival good can be consumed at extremely low rates of marginal cost. Non-excludable goods are goods that people cannot be easily prevented from consuming. The energy that people use to light their schools, heat their homes, and move their vehicles is excludable and rival. For example, Katie cannot have access to gasoline unless she pays for it. Moreover, when Katie purchases a gallon of gas, that gallon cannot be simultaneously consumed by another consumer. Natural resources like oil and natural gas are privately produced and privately consumed.[43] Just as the federal government does not make public or national interest determinations for the clothes its citizens purchase, neither should it do so for the energy they produce and consume.

Another serious problem with public interest and national interest determinations is concentrating the decisions in the hands of government officials and regulators. No concrete definitions exist for national or public interest determinations, which introduces subjectivity into the determination. As free-market environmentalist Jane S. Shaw writes in discussing public choice theory, “although people acting in the political marketplace have some concern for others, their main motive, whether they are voters, politicians, lobbyists, or bureaucrats, is self-interest.”[44] In other words, government officials are people, too.

For example, the Natural Gas Act empowers the federal government to reject the import or export of natural gas to non–free trade agreement countries if that import or export is not “consistent with the public interest.”[45] However, the law never specifies what criteria should be considered when addressing the public interest. The State Department contends with similar opaqueness for the national interest determination when deciding on cross-border pipelines. Moreover, the OCSLA gives no outline or detail for what the DOI should consider as “national needs.”

The vagueness of these considerations allows government officials to make decisions that properly belong to companies in the private sector. Rather than meeting certain criteria, these determinations empower regulators to arbitrarily make that determination for the rest of the nation. Government officials will not always make determinations on whether to develop resources based on the public interest or even objective, transparent science; instead, they may base them on their own subjective values.

The Obama Administration’s revised 2017–2022 leasing plan is also evidence of such subjectivity. Private actors incentivized by the profit motive will know much better than regulators in Washington as to where, when, and why drilling should take place. That does not preclude the need for an environmental review and permitting process, or consideration of national security impacts, but the permitting process should not be embedded in a five-year planning process that outlines where companies may produce energy in accord with a subjective, extremely vague public interest determination.[46]

4.) Federal bureaucracy adds costs and delays

The fundamental issue is that federal ownership and control of minerals offshore (and onshore) has taken decision rights away from states. Both economically and environmentally, states have proven to manage energy development prudently. For example, where states have authority over applications for permits to drill and conduct environmental reviews, oil and gas production has soared.[47] Energy companies have capitalized on the wealth of resources on private- and state-owned lands.[48] The energy industry and consumers alike benefit from most of the shale oil and shale gas—from which much of the domestic production is coming—not being under federal control.[49]

However, federal regulations and federal land ownership have rendered vast quantities of recoverable oil and natural gas onshore and offshore either inaccessible or costlier to extract.[50] Permitting energy extraction on federally owned land will result in even more oil and gas extraction and create jobs in areas that may not otherwise see such economic growth. On average, the federal processing of an application for permit to drill (APD) Fisca lYear 2016 was 257 days, while state processing is typically 30 days or less.[51] The actual statute requires the Bureau of Land Management to process APDs in 30 days but that has been routinely ignored and bogged down with regulatory red tape.

In response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13783, ““Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” the Department of Interior published a report that analyzes the regulatory burdens that burden domestic energy.[52]  DOI’s Secretarial Order No 3354 calls for solutions to streamline the process for onshore and offshore permitting.  Secretary Zinke said in July 2017, “Oil and gas production on federal lands is an important source of revenue and job growth in rural America but it is hard to envision increased investment on federal lands when a federal permit can take the better part of a year or more in some cases. This is why I’m directing the BLM to conduct quarterly lease sales and address these permitting issues. We are also looking at opportunities to bring support to our front line offices who are facing the brunt of this workload.”[53]

In January 2017, BLM had over 2,800 APDs pending.  DOI’s commitment to streamlining the process and permit new projects while maintaining strong environmental protections will produce more oil and gas on federal lands.  A better process will incentivize more companies to have interest in energy production on federal lands, which would likely result in higher bonus bids and more royalty revenues coming into the federal government.

5.) The difficulty of predicting the future of energy markets

Predicting the future value of minerals beneath federal lands and in the Outer Continental Shelf is a fool’s errand. Prices and policies change.  What could be a valuable untapped resource today may be relatively worthless 30 years from now.  The resource could be even more valuable.  Coal is a good example.  With more than 480 billion short tons of coal recoverable with today’s technology, the United States can provide electricity for over 500 years at current consumption rates. How much of that coal is consumed is anyone’s guess.  Cheap natural gas and cheaper, subsidized renewables are replacing coal as an electric generating source.  Environmental and climate regulations have forced several coal-fired power plants into early retirement.  However, as we’ve seen with energy prices throughout history, prices change and technologies innovate and improve.

New, cleaner-burning coal-fired power plants and innovative smaller coal plants could compete with other energy sources in the future.  Coal exports have grown and could continue to do so as both developed and developing countries around the world are constructing and planning to use more coal. State and local opposition to new coal export terminals could thwart some of that growth. The short answer is, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Nor should policymakers implement policy based off what well-experienced lobbyists and so-called experts predict.  That’s how we end up with market-distorting energy policies that hurt Americans as energy consumers and taxpayers.  Many of the harmful energy policies we have today are built on wrong predictions about running out of oil or that some new blossoming technology will emerge in the marketplace with some help from the American taxpayer.  We have energy conservation mandates on cars and appliances.  We mandate blending corn into our fuel supply even though it is costly and has unintended consequences on the environment and food prices. We’ve spent billions of dollars trying to push uneconomical technologies into the market.

The economic pain cuts deeper than wasted taxpayer money because government inventions distort free enterprise, create government dependence, and allow Washington to direct the flow of private-sector investments. The number of investment opportunities is broad and expansive, but the available capital is limited. Of course, investors must choose among the different projects, but government favoritism diverts limited capital by dictating who should receive it by extending the confidence of the government through a subsidy to a politically favored technology or company. For instance, private investors sank $1.1 billion into Solyndra. Much of the private financing came after the Department of Energy announced that Solyndra was one of 16 companies eligible for a loan guarantee in 2007. That $1.1 billion could have been invested elsewhere in the economy.

Conventional resources such as coal, oil and natural gas currently provide about 80 percent of America’s energy needs and 80 percent of the world’s energy needs.  That could change as nuclear and renewables outcompete these fuels or it could stay around 75 percent over the next half century.  Price signals should determine what provides households and businesses with the most dependable energy at the most competitive price.

Prices, after all, communicate information to energy producers and to energy users. Higher prices for oil incentivize companies to extract and supply more. Moreover, higher prices also incentivize entrepreneurs to invest in innovative alternatives to oil, whether batteries, natural gas vehicles, or biofuels. Drivers will examine their consumption options as well, whether carpooling, finding alternative modes of transportation, or, over time, purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle. The role of policymakers should be to open access to these resources, eliminate regulations that are devoid of any meaningful benefit, and establish a permitting process that allows energy producers to respond to the price signals in the marketplace.


Simply having a fire sale of the minerals on the federal estates is unrealistic, but it is unlikely to produce the desired outcome of generating substantial revenues. Doing so would significantly reduce the price of the minerals or not produce much interest altogether. Some areas may generate significant value, like any federal holdings in the Permian Basin.  Others may generate little or no interest, like DOI’s offshore lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico.  In March 2018, DOI offered up the largest offshore lease sale in history with discounted royalties to attract bidders.  Though the auction produced $124.76 million in winning bids, companies bid on only one percent of the acreage, far less than what DOI envisioned.[54] An outright fire sale of minerals would generate less interest with a minimum bid set.  Removing the minimum bid and allowing companies to buy the minerals outright would do little in terms of generating serious revenues.  It would be a one-time, underpriced injection into the Treasury.

Instead, Congress and the executive branch should take a number of actions to maximize the potential value of energy abundance on federal lands and waters.  There are several important steps to do so.

1.) Collect a Better Estimate of Resource Potential on Federal Lands and Waters.   One way to boost interest in mineral production is to have up-to-date information regarding how much resource potential is beneath federal soil and off U.S. territorial waters. Many resource estimates are long out of date. More accurate information will better inform companies as to whether it makes sense to drill exploratory wells and commit labor and capital to certain geographic areas.

Myron Ebell, a director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, testified before the House Natural Resources committee and underscored the need to have accurate estimates of resource potential.  Ebell writes, “Much of the data comes from geologic studies that are one, two, or even three decades old, and the assessment is thus based on outdated technology and scientific understanding that has been superseded by subsequent research. A comprehensive survey based on current geological knowledge and using up-to-date techniques, including seismic testing, is long overdue.

When similar geological surveys have been proposed in the past, they have never gotten started in the face of objections that they will cost too much and take too long. Undoubtedly, the same objections will be raised again in an effort to remove this provision from the bill. In my view, the objections of time and money are real, but are far outweighed by the value of having much better information about the extent and location of America’s offshore energy resources. Incomplete and inadequate knowledge of federally-controlled resources is not of course restricted to offshore resource and regularly contributes to poor management decisions by the federal land agencies on a wide variety of issues.”[55]

As we’ve seen with energy production on private and state-owned lands, knowledge of resource estimates can change very quickly. Many of the past and even current estimates likely underestimate America’s energy wealth, because they fail to keep up with technological advancements discovering new resources. In fact, innovative companies have squashed exaggerated claims of looming resource exhaustion.

Allen Gilmer, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Drillinginfo, recently called the Permian Basin in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico “a permanent resource.” Gilmer remarked, “The research we’ve done indicates that we have at least half a trillion barrels in the Permian at reasonable economics, and it could be as high as 2 trillion barrels. That is, as a practical matter, an infinite amount of resource.” [56] The Bureau of Land Management’s September 2018 Permian Basin (where most of the mineral rights are privately owned) oil and gas lease auction in New Mexico fetched nearly $1 billion in bonus bids and unexplored parcels of land went for more than $95,000 an acre.[57] This was a record sale for BLM in part because of the known resource quantities that exist in the Permian Basin. Better access to information and a streamlined environmental review and permitting process that empowers industry to respond more efficiently to market signals could yield similar benefits elsewhere onshore and offshore.

2.) Empower state governments and create efficient regulatory processes. Proposed legislation, The Federal Lands Freedom Act would give states the authority to administer leasing, permitting, and regulatory programs for development of all energy resources on federal lands. States are already well positioned to help make a transition to better management of these resources. Under the Federal Lands Freedom Act, states will be able to develop a regulatory program for energy development on federal lands and submit the program to the Departments of the Interior, Energy, and Agriculture. This would be sufficient in lieu of redundant federal requirements, such as the National Environmental Policy Act. The bill also does not include Indian lands, national parks, or congressionally designated wilderness areas.

State control, local governance, and private-sector participation would result in more accountable, effective management. While the federal government can simply shift the costs of mismanagement to federal taxpayers, states have powerful incentives for better management of resources on federal lands. State governments can be more accountable to the people who will directly benefit from wise management decisions, especially as it pertains to natural resource management.

Much of the shale oil and shale gas deposits in the U.S. lie beneath state and privately owned lands, but an important reason for the rapid increase in production has been an efficient permitting process. Ohio requires a permit to be processed within 21 days and an expedited permit within seven days. Other states have similarly short time frames: Texas’s average is four days (expedited permits are two days),and even in California, a permit must be processed within 10 days; if it is not, it is automatically approved.

Efficiency pays off: Rather than spending undue time and money filling out and filing permit applications, companies are getting more—and more affordable—energy to the market. In October 2008, the United States produced 4.7 million barrels per day; production skyrocketed to more than 11 million barrels per day in October 2018.

According to a 2015 Property and Environment Research Council report, “On average, states generate more revenue per dollar spent than the federal government on a variety of land management activities, including timber, grazing, minerals, and recreation.”[58]

Moreover, incentives to invest in and steward the environment are stronger when people have direct ownership and responsibility.[59] The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) lands lost $4.38 per acre from 2009–2013, while trust lands in four western states earned $34.60 per acre.[60] In terms simply of recreation, states again do a better job of making a return on their investment. Idaho and Montana averaged $6.86 per dollar spent on recreation on state trust lands; in contrast, the BLM earned $0.20 and the FS $0.28 per dollar spent, resulting in a net loss.[61] While states and local communities may not always make perfect decisions, the best environmental policies are site- and situation-specific.

Moreover, transferring decision rights to states and the private sector could lead to an industry that is more responsive to price changes. According to a working paper from Utah State University economist Eric C. Edwards,

Even though 99% of federal drilling permits are eventually approved, bureaucratic delay imposes costs through delay and dampening. Drilling response is slower, and thus wells on federal lands do not respond to high oil and gas prices as quickly as private lands. These delays also lead to lower overall price responses—fewer overall wells drilled in response to price increases. Our findings indicate that the potential for improving the responsiveness of federal lands to price signals could be achieved through a reduction in delay in the BLM permitting process.[62]

While the study examines federal lands, similar logic could apply to federal waters as well. Remedying this situation could compensate states appropriately through expanded royalty revenue collection. With the exception of Alaska, states receive 50 percent of the revenues generated by onshore oil and natural gas production on federal lands.[63] Congress should apply this allocation offshore as well, including for current operations in the Gulf of Mexico. If Congress successfully transfers the permitting and environmental review to the states, the states should receive an even larger share of the royalty revenue collected.

Drilling off states’ coasts and allowing them a larger share of the royalty revenue would encourage more state involvement in drilling decisions. Offshore drilling would also promote state and local government participation in allocating funds, helping to close deficits, enabling coastal restoration and conservation, and using funds for schools.

Congress should eliminate the five-year plans and authorize the DOI to conduct lease sales if interest for development exists while weighting the consultation with heavily impacted states in offering lease sales. Such a reform would allow the safe development of energy off America’s coasts while empowering state stakeholders. Removing the lengthy and unnecessary planning process would create a system that is more responsive to price changes and flexible to the needs and interests of states. The permitting would also need to meet any Department of Defense requirements.

After eliminating the five-year planning process, Congress and the Administration should overhaul the offshore leasing process by amending the OCSLA and SLA and transferring the environmental review and permitting process to the states. The state regulatory program would be sufficient in lieu of federal requirements (e.g., from the Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Policy Act). To support their reviews, state regulators can request technical or safety expertise from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and use previous DOI environmental assessments. In addition, state regulators could work in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to assess environmental impact and maritime safety and security.

3.) Opening energy auctions to all parties: Currently, only energy companies can bid on lease auctions and the federal government requires leaseholders to demonstrate intent to develop the resources. Restricting who bids and requiring the winner develop the parcels eliminates competition and fails to assess the relative value of the land. Conservationists, recreationists, alternative energy companies, ranchers, or environmentalists may value the land more for their intended use than for oil and gas development. As economist Michael Giberson and research fellow Shawn Regan write in their public comment on federal oil and gas royalties, “No method reliably integrates the variety of diverse, predominantly subjective, and sometimes conflicting values into a single, uncontroversial auction reserve price.”[64] Opening the leasing process to all interested parties would not only create more competition but also potentially more cooperation. An environmental organization could pair up with a grazer to bid on a block of land. An energy company could coordinate conservationist groups to use the land in which both parties can benefit. Natural resource extraction would likely still occur, but oil and gas production will occur because the energy companies value the land and resources more than other contending interests do. As values change (for instance, if oil prices rise), buyout programs and lease re-offerings would ensure that competing interests remain involved in current and future land-use decisions. One challenge will be to establish a mechanism to compensate taxpayers for lost royalty revenues, which the BLM could accomplish by assessing grazing, recreation, or other land-use fees.

Giberson and Regan write, “In a number of cases private conservation groups have negotiated with parties over specific grazing rights or oil and gas leases on federal lands in an effort to protect environmental values. As long ago as 1992 the Conservation Fund purchased grazing rights in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Utah. By 2003, at least a half-dozen conservation and sportsmen organizations had grazing permit buyout programs. In 2012 the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, worked with a variety of other groups and donors to purchase and retire oil and gas leases representing 58,000 acres in Wyoming’s Hoback Basin from Plains Exploration and Production Co.”[65]

Another Source of Federal Revenue: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve

After the Arab oil embargo and the formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the 1970’s, the United States and countries around the world felt a need to hold more oil inventories for emergency purposes.  The U.S. joined the International Energy Agency in 1974 to coordinate a multi-lateral response to oil supply shocks.  As part of that commitment, the federal government created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) through legislation the following year. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve holds nearly 700 million barrels of crude oil to serve as an emergency stockpile for supply shocks that cause price spikes.  The creation of SPR was to mitigate U.S. economic vulnerability from supply disruptions and not intended to be a national defense stockpile. Although a strong economy is an integral component of national security, SPR has not been used as an effective response to oil price spikes.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 constrains the president’s authorities to release the reserves; the problem, however, is that the limitations and conditions for SPR drawdowns are not credible justifications for the reserve’s existence. Furthermore, the executive branch can interpret the conditions rather vaguely, making an SPR release more about domestic party politics than policy. For instance, even though drawing down SPR reserves may have little market effect, it could help a president obtain favorable polling from the public by creating the perception that the administration is “doing something” about a crisis.

EPCA requires a presidential finding that there is a “severe energy supply interruption” and the following conditions must be met:

  • “An emergency situation exists and there is a significant reduction in supply which is of significant scope and duration;
  • “A severe increase in the price of petroleum products has resulted from such emergency situation; and
  • “Such price increase is likely to cause a major adverse impact on the national economy.”[66]

Supply disruptions are not reason enough for government stockpiling and most importantly can be addressed through market forces with an abundance of private inventory, not government-controlled resources. Even so, the empirical benefits associated with the government’s use of SPR when in alleged emergencies are dubious and difficult to accurately assess because of the difficulty in isolating the release’s effect on the market given all the other variables that affect the global oil market.

Some studies have found SPR releases could lower oil prices as much as 32 percent; however these studies estimate price impacts from optimal SPR management, not actual effects of SPR releases on global oil prices or SPR releases in practice.[67]  Obtaining the optimal price effect would be difficult argues University of Wyoming economist Timothy Considine because “a more fundamental problem arises from vesting a political entity with the inherently complex task of allocating oil across time and space – a task that is probably best left to market forces.”[68]

Considine estimates that a drawdown during a supply shock would have much less impact, only lowering prices 3.5 percent.[69] This is largely in part because other countries or private companies holding inventories could increase their own reserves and also because the amount released is marginal compared to the global supply and demand for oil.

University of California, Berkeley economist Reid Stevens drew similar conclusions on SPR’s futility, using econometric modeling to show that SPR releases have no impact on lowering prices.[70] Stevens measured oil price effects of SPR purchases and withdrawals, testing effects of anticipated and unanticipated purchases of oil for SPR and sales to the market.  Reid found that no matter the certainty, SPR sales did not lower oil prices; however, unanticipated purchases to build up SPR inventory increased oil prices 1.5 percent.[71]

The historical use of SPR in times of unanticipated supply shocks proves this to be true. During the Gulf War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait took 6.5 percent of the oil offline, causing prices to jump from $15 per barrel in July of 1990 to $30 in October.[72] As Considine outlines, the lost supply was offset by increases in OPEC, not drawdowns from SPR.  President George H.W. Bush did not release reserves from SPR until the U.S. strike on Iraq in January 1991. The price dropped more than $10 per barrel before any SPR crude reached the market.[73]

While some analysts attribute drops in prices to public announcements signaling that more supplies will reach the market, this was not likely the case during the Gulf War.  The Congressional Research Services reports that the decreasing crude price was due to other factors: “Oil analysts attributed the price drop to optimistic reports about the allied forces’ crippling Iraqi air power and the diminished likelihood, despite the outbreak of war, of further jeopardy to world oil supply. There appeared to be no need for the IEA plan and the SPR drawdown to help settle markets, and there was some criticism of it. DOE offered more than 30 million barrels of SPR oil for bid, but only accepted bids on 17.3 million barrels.”[74]

One problem for optimal SPR use is the federal government’s inability to predict future events and consequently having a slow or late response.  If concerns exist, for instance, that conflict overseas will exacerbate supply disruption, the government may hold onto the reserves.  If the conflict does not worsen, the expediency that SPR needs to be at least temporarily effective is lost.  President George W. Bush ordered a quick SPR release during Hurricane Katrina but was ineffective in mitigating price shocks because the refineries and pipelines also closed as a result of the hurricane.

In other instances, the emergency situations in which the executive branch released oil from SPR have been questionable and controversial. In 2000, in the midst of an election year, the Clinton administration used SPR for personal political gain. As gas and home heating oil prices rose, Vice President Gore, running for president at the time, urged President Clinton to drawdown reserves to lower prices.[75] Clinton’s own Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers criticized the release, saying SPR should not be used to manipulate market prices and using SPR to do so would “set a dangerous precedent.”[76]

President Obama’s coordinated release with the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2011 when Libyan oil was taken offline is another instance where releasing reserves from SPR did not pass rational or economic muster set by the conditions for drawdowns.  Libyan production of oil has been offline for almost three months when the administration released oil from SPR and Libya only produces 2 percent of the world’s oil. Oil prices were high at the time, but because of market forces. Steadily rising global demand for the better part of a year particularly from developing countries China and India had increased oil prices. No emergency situation existed and no supply shock occurred and therefore there was no need for an SPR drawdown.

The ineffective and political manner with which the executive branch has used SPR should be reason enough for Congress to liquidate the asset, but policymakers should also consider why the U.S. has international commitments to hold reserves given the ability for the private sector to respond to price spikes and the diversity of global energy markets.

America will have access to oil for commercial use and national security, both by producing it domestically and acquiring it abroad.  Even if the oil market becomes fractured in the event of a larger security crisis or a major war, both the global market of suppliers and channels to distribute oil are highly diversified.  Oil reaches its final destination with great fluidity and if the market became segmented because one or more channels became disrupted, the U.S. would still be in a position to import oil.  The route in which that oil reaches its final destination would clearly not be the most efficient if multiple shipping lanes or pipelines are unavailable, but there would still be available sources in much greater and sustainable quantities than the SPR to get to U.S. ports.

Liquidating the SPR would operate much like the sales process does now. In conducting a sale, DOE will issue a Notice of Sale outlining the conditions for the sale including quantity of available for sale, delivery modes, minimum quantity to be purchased, the federal government’s crude oil base reference price and delivery price indexing process, delivery periods, offer guarantee letter of credit requirements and ensuring compliance with existing statutory requirements for selling and transporting petroleum products.[77]  DOE will establish a sale price based on the sale of similar crudes in the region and offers must be at or above 95 percent of the sales price estimate.[78] DOE will then take the highest priced offers until the entire amount offered is sold. The actual payment to the government is sold on an index price basis.

For example, in the latest test sale in March 2014, DOE offered 5 million barrels and received 37 bids from 12 different companies.[79] As the test sale report to Congress notes, “Under the SPR Standard Sales Provisions (SSPs), SPR oil is sold on an indexed price basis to minimize oil markets risks.  A base reference price of $101.4020  was established by the Government using the average five day price of Southern Green Canyon (SGC) crude traded  prior to the Notice of Sale. The differential between the Offeror’s bid price and the Government’s base reference price was then used to adjust the buyer’s price at the time of delivery.  The buyer’s final price was computed by applying this differential to the average five day traded SGC price surrounding the buyer’s delivery date.”[80] Receipts upwards of $468.5 million were deposited into the Treasury with the delivery price of $93.75 per barrel and DOE completed the delivery over a 47 day period.[81]

Congress should authorize DOE to auction 10 percent of the country’s previous month’s total crude production.  Basing the sales on the U.S.’s previous month’s production would allow the Congress to drain SPR over a two to three year timeframe and will do so without disrupting the markets.[82] Congress should then decommission the salt caverns or sell those to the private sector as well if a commercial interest exists to use the caverns for private inventory.

Congress should explicitly stipulate that all revenues collected from SPR sales go exclusively toward deficit reduction and no reciprocating increased spending. Congress has proposed using temporary SPR sales to pay for increases in spending for other bills, such as increasing funding for the Highway Trust Fund. The recognition that DOE should eliminate the reserve is not an invitation to find ways to spend the revenue.

The United States government should also remove itself from any commitment with the IEA to hold reserves, implement demand constraints, coordinate response measures, reduce dependence on foreign oil and transition to alternative sources of energy. The United States could simply withdraw from the Agreement or choose to remove participation from the International Energy Program altogether.[83] Getting rid of SPR will allow markets to respond to price increases more efficiently than government-controlled reserves that distort the actions of the private sector. Private inventories, which may be even higher in the absence of a government-owned stockpile or which may not respond to a price shock in anticipation of a government release of SPR, would act more efficiently.


Simply put, the federal government owns too much land and mineral wealth.  Americans would benefit tremendously from increased energy access on federal lands through lower prices, a healthier economy and tax revenues to pay down the national debt. We should also sell off our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as it serves little economic and national security value.  The goal of mineral sales should not be to maximize revenue for the federal government but instead empower markets to work efficiently. Those are the policies that be best for Americans as energy consumers.  Higher proceeds coming in to the federal government will be a welcome bonus.


[2] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “United States Remains Largest Producer of Petroleum and Natural Gas

Hydrocarbons,” May 23, 2016,




[6] U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, “Mineral and Surface Acreage Managed by the BLM,”










[16]A nautical mile is 6,080.2 feet or approximately 1.15 miles. The exceptions to the three-nautical-mile rule are Florida and Texas, which have boundaries of nine nautical miles. See Submerged Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. §§1301–1315.

[17]U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, “Primer on Ocean Jurisdictions: Drawing Lines in the Water,” An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, July 22, 2004,

[18]43 U.S.C. §§1331 et seq.


[20]U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, “2017–2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” .

[21]See U.S. Energy Information Administration, “U.S. Crude Oil First Purchase Price,” January 2, 2018,



[24]Technically recoverable refers to resources accessible with today’s technology. U.S. Geological Survey, “Assessment of Continuous (Unconventional) Oil and Gas Resources in the Late Cretaceous Mancos Shale of the Piceance Basin, Uinta-Piceance Province, Colorado and Utah, 2016,” U.S. Department of the Interior, Fact Sheet No. 2016-3030, June 2016,

[25]U.S. Geological Survey, “Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Uinta-Piceance Province of Colorado and Utah, 2002,” U.S. Department of the Interior, Fact Sheet No. 157-02, p. 2, February 2003,

[26]U.S. Forest Service, “Final Record of Decision, Oil and Gas Leasing on Lands Administered by the White River National Forest,” December 3, 2015, pp. 4 and 13,

[27]Land Management Bureau, “Notice of Availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Previously Issued Oil and Gas Leases in the White River National Forest, Colorado,” Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 151 (August 5, 2016), pp. 51936–51937,

[28]U.S. Forest Service, “Final Record of Decision, Oil and Gas Leasing,” p. 7.

[29]Representative Rob Bishop, letter to Neil Kornze, Director, Bureau of Land Management, June 30, 2016, See also David Ludlam, Kathleen Sgamma, and Dan Haley, letter to Greg Larson, June 17, 2016,

[30]“Proved reserves” is a very conservative measure referring to resources accessible with today’s technology, laws, and economic situation. Marc Humphries, “U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Nonfederal Areas,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, pp. 2 and 4,

[31]“U.S. Oil Production Up, But on Whose Lands?” Institute for Energy Research, September 24, 2012,

[32]Bureau of Land Management, “The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976: How the State Was Set for BLM’s ‘Organic Act,’”

[33]Forest Service, “Final Record of Decision, Oil and Gas Leasing,” p. 12.


[35]Bureau of Land Management, “Thompson Divide Drilling History,” January 16, 2013, See also, Thompson Divide Coalition, “The Issue,”

[36]Paul Tolmé, “The Fight Over the Thompson Divide,” 5280 Magazine, March 2016,

[37]Ryan Summerlin, “‘We Weren’t Listened to’ on Sage-Grouse Policy, Garfield County Says,” Post Independent-Citizen Telegram, July 11, 2016,

[38]Robert Gordon and Nicolas Loris, “Congress’s Sneaky Tactic to Grab More Land for the Government,” The Daily Signal, December 2, 2014,

[39]Nicolas Loris, “The Antiquated Act: Time to Repeal the Antiquities Act,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2998, March 25, 2015,

[40]Jack Spencer, ed., Environmental Conservation: Eight Principles of the American Conservation Ethic, The Heritage Foundation, July 27, 2012,

[41]43 U.S.C. § 1332.

[42]For more information on this, see Nicolas Loris, “Removing Restrictions on Liquid Natural Gas Exports: A Gift to the U.S. and Global Economies,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 3232, July 27, 2017,

[43]Environmental statutes and regulations internalize the negative externalities associated with the burning of conventional fuels.

[44]Jane S. Shaw, “Public Choice Theory,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Library of Economics and Liberty, 1993),

[45]15 U.S. Code § 717b.

[46]Nor does it mean that state regulatory regimes will always make sound policy decisions. New York’s ban on hydraulic fracturing and Florida’s request for an exemption are examples of that.

[47]Marc Humphries, “U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Nonfederal Areas,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, No. 42432, June 22, 2016,

[48]Institute for Energy Research, “Energy Production on Federal Lands Lags Behind Private and State Lands,” July 21, 2015,

[49]U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Maps: Exploration, Resources, Reserves, and Production,”

[50]Mark Green, “Expanding Offshore Access Is Key to U.S. Energy Security,” Energy Today, May 1, 2017,

[51]News Release, “Zinke Signs Secretarial Order To Streamline Process For Federal Onshore Oil And Gas Leasing Permits,” U.S. Department of the Interior, July 6, 2017,







[58]Holly Fretwell and Shawn Regan, “Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West,” Property and Environment Research Center, PERC Public Lands Report, March 2015, Figure 1,

[59]For more information, see Nicolas D. Loris, “Chapter 5: Economic Freedom, Energy, and Development,” 2015 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 2015),

[60]Fretwell and Shawn Regan, “Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West.”


[62]Eric C. Edwards, Trevor O’Grady, and David Jenkins, “The Effect of Land Ownership on Oil and Gas Production: A Natural Experiment,” Working Paper, December 2016,

[63]Elizabeth Malm, “Federal Mineral Royalty Disbursements to States and the Effects of Sequestration,” The Tax Foundation, Fiscal Fact Sheet No. 371, May 30, 2013,

[64]Michael Giberson and Shawn Regan, “Public Interest Comment in Response to U.S. Department of Interior’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” comment submitted in response to Federal Register, Vol. 80 (June 5, 2015), p. 22148, June 5, 2015,


[66] U.S. Department of Energy, “Strategic Petroleum Reserve Profile,”

[67] Phillip Verleger, “Measuring the economic impact of an oil release from the Strategic

Petroleum Reserve to compensate for the loss of Venezuelan oil production,” Appendix 4, “U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Recent Policy has Increased Costs but Not Overall U.S. Energy Security,” Report prepared by the Minority Committee on Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, of the Committee on Governmental Affairs U.S. Senate, March 5, 2003,

[68] Timothy J. Considine and Kevin M. Dowd, “A Superfluous Petroleum Reserve?” Regulation, 2005,

[69] Timothy J. Considine, “Is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Our Ace in the Hole?” The Energy Journal, 91-112, 2006.

[70] Reid Stevens, “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve and Crude

Oil Prices ,” University of California, Berkeley, November 15, 2014,

[71] Ibid.

[72] Timothy J. Considine and Kevin M. Dowd, “A Superfluous Petroleum Reserve?” Regulation, 2005.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Anthony Andrews and Robert Pirog, “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Authorization, Operation and Drawdown Policy” Congressional Research Service, June 18, 2012,

[75] Brian Knowlton, “Gore Urges Use of Oil Reserves to Ease Prices,”  The New York Times, September 22, 2000,

[76] David E. Sanger, “Politics or Policy?” The New York Times, September 23, 2000,

[77] U.S. Department of Energy, “Strategic  Petroleum  Reserve Test Sale 2014,” Report to Congress, November 2014,

[78] Federal Register, Vol. 70, No. 129, “Price Competitive Sale of Strategic

Petroleum Reserve Petroleum; Standard  Sales Provision,” Department of Energy Final Rule, July 7, 2005,

[79] U.S. Department of Energy, “Strategic  Petroleum  Reserve Test Sale 2014,” Report to Congress, November 2014,

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Petroleum and Other Liquids: U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil,”

[83] In the event of noncompliance with the treaty, the IEA’s Governing Board could administer corrective measures if they felt the integrity of the collective global inventories and ability to coordinate might be at risk as a result of the non-compliance. However, it is unlikely that the Board would decide to dismiss a non-complying Member.

Mineral Assets Chapter 2

17 thoughts on “Mineral Assets Chapter 2

  • December 21, 2018 at 1:22 PM

    It should be relatively non-controversial to prompt a thorough assessment of this revenue source.

    Yet, part of the ongoing ‘sleepwalk’ into a growing debt crisis is near total ignorance of the potential to raise money from mineral rights sales. We don’t even have current, solid assessments of the geological basis for the dollar valuations. We haven’t thought through constraining use of this revenue source UNTIL spending growth is constrained.

    States haven’t thought through how asset privatization could affect them.

  • January 1, 2019 at 8:04 PM

    This is a great overview for increasing the value of federal energy resources. Converting an asset into liquid form (i.e., cash) instead of the asset itself doesn’t change the government’s balance sheet, although increasing the scope for monetizing these assets may produce important information for further price discovery.

    Dedicating the proceeds to debt reduction makes sense from a balance-sheet perspective too. It’s possible, however, that it could blunt the political will to confront the deficit in a serious way. Would it be preferable to focus on technological, pricing, and regulatory frameworks in the near term?

    On the constitutional aspects of federal property, most of the original justification for Washington to manage the western territories was to prevent conflict between states and to provide a governance framework until new states formed from the territories (Article IV, Section 3, clause 2). Although Congress clearly didn’t take this approach, it seems like it would have been reasonable to transfer ownership and control of former territorial lands to newly established state governments. Except for military facilities, post office, courthouses, and so on.

    • January 1, 2019 at 8:11 PM

      Without an effective fiscal rule in place, significantly upping the income from asset sales risks losing that potential for debt reduction to increased spending. In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do, to debt weaponize, asset sales.

  • January 7, 2019 at 1:26 PM

    This paper makes a good case for privatizing many federal lands and mineral resources. However, I think it is better to emphasize the potential efficiency gains from this action rather than its fiscal effects. Selling assets to pay for deficits is a means of financing rather than as a means of reducing deficits. Example: $100 deficit financed by debt issuance. Net position of government declines by $100. Sell an asset for $100 –> cash +$100, non-cash assets -$100. No effect on net position. Use $100 cash asset to reduce debt liability by $100. No effect on net position. Effect of deficit on net position is unaffected by asset sales.

    Surprising that “progressives” haven’t made more of the potential of asset sales to reduce cash-basis budget deficits. (Currently, asset sales are scored as “offsetting collections,” i.e. negative outlays, in calculating the deficit..

    • March 10, 2019 at 6:10 PM

      No doubt rules would need to be in place to mandate application of liquidation revenue to debt reduction. To exemplify the potential abuse of privatization of state assets, look at the dissolution of the Soviet Union–rife with Politburo and other Communist party “progressives” awarding themselves and their cronies windfall deals in the fire-sale, essentially a corrupt oligarchy looting the state’s treasures. Similar “sales” made in Venezuela by Maduro to Chinese and others.

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