The Obameter

Require drilling on current oil and gas leases

"A "Use it or Lose It" Approach to Existing Leases. Oil companies have access to 68 million acres of land, over 40 million offshore, which they are not drilling on. Drilling in open areas could significantly increase domestic oil and gas production. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will require oil companies to diligently develop these leases or turn them over so that another company can develop them."


Updates

Early proposals disappeared and never resurfaced

Eight years ago, Democrats were throwing around the phrase "use it or lose it" in regards to oil and gas leases.

In other words, President Barack Obama promised to sign legislation to force companies to develop current oil and gas leases before getting new ones.

In 2010, we rated the status of this promise as Compromise, since Obama had introduced ideas in his budget, and then-House Natural Resources Committee chairman Nick Rahall floated a draft bill. But neither survived to become law.

Six years later, there are no laws requiring drilling on current onshore leases.

"This is certainly an issue of major concern since so many acres of public land are being controlled by the oil and gas industry without benefit to the American taxpayer from production," said Nada Culver, a senior counsel and director for The Wilderness Society.

The story is pretty much the same for offshore wells.

Michael LeVine, an offshore oil and gas regulation expert for Oceana, said that offshore leases are usually sold for five- to ten-year primary terms, and they will expire if no oil is produced. However, the leases can be extended with the production of oil or gas.

Companies are allowed to hold multiple non-producing leases at a time, and are not required to drill on them before bidding on new leases.

LeVine added that the rent increases the longer the lease is held. Therefore, he says, holding on to a non-producing lease could be expensive and cause a company to give it up.

Obama promised to "require drilling on current oil and gas leases" before companies could lease new lands. While early proposals existed, there are no laws that bar companies from bidding on new leases while holding on to non-producing leases. We rate this Promise Broken.

Sources:

Interview, Amy Mall, Natural Resources Defense Council Land & Wildlife Program senior policy analyst, Nov. 23, 2016

Interview, Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel at Oceana, Nov. 30, 2016

Email interview, Nada Culver, senior counsel and director of The Wilderness Society's BLM Action Center, Nov. 28, 2016

Email interview, Connie Gillette, deputy chief, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management OPA and media relations manager, Nov. 17, 2016

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Final Rule Summary, Oct. 12, 2016

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 30 CFR Parts 550, 556, 559, et al. Leasing of Sulfur or Oil and Gas in the Outer Continental Shelf; Final Rule, Oct. 12, 2016

 

The longer the lease, the higher the price

"Use it or lose it."
 
It was a phrase we heard a lot of in the summer of 2008, when gas prices were at record highs and we were in the midst of a heated presidential election. In response to Republican criticism that high gas prices were the product of Democratic opposition to domestic drilling, Democrats responded by introducing legislation that would require oil companies to develop their existing leases before they would be issued new drilling licenses.
 
Obama took cues from his fellow Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill and incorporated the "use it or lose it" approach into his campaign platform.
 
Obama first attempted to deal with the issue in his budget, where he proposed a fee on oil companies that were not using their oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. But the idea did not go over well with moderate House Democrats who feared the new fees would increase the cost of energy.
 
Then, in June 2009, House Natural Resources Committee chairman Nick Rahall floated a draft bill that would mirror the fees proposed by Obama. But the bill was never introduced, and after that, the issue seemed to go quietly into the night.
 
But then we found a Federal Register notice posted by the Minerals Management Service on Jan. 14, 2009. The office is part of the Department of Interior and oversees drilling leases, and, according to the announcement, it has decided to increase rental fees on leases in the Outer Continental Shelf. In short, a drilling company will have to pay an additional $4,320 to $37,440 in annual rental fees to keep undrilled areas longer than five years.
 
Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program for the Sierra Club, said the increased fees are "a pretty big deal and should prompt companies to use it or pay for it."
 
That said, Obama promised oil companies would need to use leases or lose leases, not hold on to them so long as they were willing to pay for them. Furthermore, Obama's promise indicated that oil companies would have to drill on on- and offshore land, but the new rules only seem to apply to offshore tracts. So, for now we're going to rate this promise a Compromise. But we'll be watching to see whether the new rules spur oil companies to hurry up and drill.

Sources:

Congressional Quarterly, Democrats Try ‘Use It or Lose It" Oil Argument, by Coral Davenport, June 16, 2008
 
Congressional Quarterly, Obama Would Add Oil and Gas Industry Taxes in Interior Budget Plan, By Avery Palmer, Feb. 26, 2009
 
Congressional Quarterly, Moderate House Democrats Balk at Higher Oil and Gas Industry Taxes, by Avery Palmer, March 24, 2009
 
The Federal Register, Final Notice of Sale: Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Central Planning Area (CPA) Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Oil and Gas Lease Sale 208, accessed Jan. 11, 2010.