Spreading Like Wildfire
Oil and gas leases mean that fracking could occur on tens of millions of acres of U.S. lands
According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, 70 of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the United States held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land -- an area approximately the size of California and Florida combined. This is a minimum number of the acres leased nationwide because we only examined 70 out of hundreds of oil and gas producers in America.
And although many of these 141 million acres are already drilled, tens of millions of leased acres are not yet drilled, making them prime targets for drilling and fracking operations in the future.
How much development is yet to occur on lands under lease?
We don't know exactly because only some of the companies specified how many of the acres they have leased already have producing wells. Of those that did provide this statistic, 40 percent of their acres did not yet have any producing wells. Given the environmental history of the oil and gas industry, NRDC is extremely concerned about the risks to clean air, clean water, healthy communities, wildlands, and wildlife habitat that could come from this magnitude of development. New drilling brings new roads, traffic, spills, leaks, land disturbance, noise and more negative consequences to communities. The lands already drilled are currently at risk of serious air and water pollution, and those planned for future drilling face the same.
Additional findings from NRDC's analysis:
- Eight of the 70 companies we reviewed are foreign companies. They reported that they hold leases for 8.5 million acres—many through joint ventures with American companies.
- The five companies that reported the largest lease holdings were Chesapeake Energy, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, and Cimarex Energy (there are incomplete data for some companies and BP did not report its onshore acreage in the filings we reviewed).
- 30 companies each held at least 1 million acres.
- Maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy development.
- Issue strong Bureau of Land Management rules to help protect drinking water, clean air, wildlands, and communities where there are federal oil and gas leases.
- Close loopholes in federal environmental and safety laws for oil and gas operations.
- Establish rigorous state laws for all aspects of oil and gas exploration and development.
- Place the most sensitive lands, including critical watersheds, completely off limits to fracking.
- Allow communities to determine their future by ensuring their authority to restrict fracking and other oil and gas activities.
Solutions to limiting harmful fracking activities:
America's energy needs don't require or justify this level of widespread drilling. The United States should instead be maximizing energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy as quickly as possible to transition to a clean energy economy. Yet oil and gas development continues to occur, and protection of clean air, clean water, healthy communities. The health of these lands across the country depends on the strongest possible state, local and federal rules, as well as the capacity for inspections, enforcement, monitoring, and record keeping needed to enforce them over such a large area. These facts dramatically underscore the dire need for new environmental and health protections to safeguard our clean water, clean air, healthy communities, and pristine wildlands now, in order to help prevent all the dangers that will come with oil and gas development yet to materialize.
last revised 3/13/2013
Get Updates and Alerts
NRDC Gets Top Ratings from the Charity Watchdogs
- Charity Navigator awards NRDC its 4-star top rating.
- Worth magazine named NRDC one of America's 100 best charities.
- NRDC meets the highest standards of the Wise Giving Alliance of the Better Business Bureau.
- Q&A: Documentary Filmmaker Ken Burns on National Parks
- Ken Burn spoke to OnEarth about his motivation for his new documentary series on America's national parks.
- In the Canadian Boreal Forest, a Conservation Ethic at Work
- After fighting successfully for years to keep destructive logging, hydropower and mining projects out of their traditional territory, the people of Poplar River are now working to secure permanent protection for their boreal forest homeland.