The U.S. Department of Interior recently sent out a flurry of press releases announcing a major upswing in energy development on federal lands. “Energy Revenues and Disbursements Soar Under The Trump Administration,” one said, adding that the revenues from energy development on federal land were “nearly double the disbursements allocated at the end of the previous Administration.”
The public relations blitz is clearly intended to tout the administration’s “energy dominance” agenda — as well as perhaps taking some attention away from its numerous scandals. The administration is claiming that by rolling back environmental protections and rules that protect public health and worker safety, it is responsible for sparking a “drilling surge,” as one media outlet described it. And that, in turn, is giving a boost to communities in the oil and gas patches.
The last three years of data do, indeed, show that oil and gas leasing, drilling, and production have seen an increase under Trump. A longer view reveals a more nuanced picture, however, and shows:
The current “drilling surge” is a limited one, occurring primarily in the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico and Texas.
There is far less drilling activity Westwide now than there was five years ago.
A surge in oil and gas leasing does not necessarily lead to a surge in drilling permits, and a surge in drilling permits does not necessarily lead to a surge in actual drilling. Companies will sit on leases for years without applying for a permit to drill. And over the past decade federal land managers issues some 37,000 permits to drill, but drilling was begun on only 23,000 wells during that time.
Energy revenues overall remain lower now than they were six years ago, meaning that if any president can claim “energy dominance” it would be President Barack Obama. Which is to say, no president can really make such a claim. Total revenues are a product of price and production.
Most importantly, the data show once again that the price of oil and gas, not environmental regulations, drive the pace of drilling.
Journalist, editor and writer focusing on the Western United States and its landscapes, communities, and cultures. Creator of Land Desk. Author of "River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster" (Torrey House Press 2018), "Behind the Slickrock Curtain" (Lost Souls Press 2020), and the forthcoming "Sagebrush Empire: A journey into the heart of the public land wars" (Torrey House 2021).
View all posts by Jonathan P. Thompson