New analysis shows more than 6,500 drilling permits undeveloped, 97 percent in the Interior West

Denver, COThe oil and gas industry has failed to develop 6,573 federal drilling permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, even though the agency has given these oil and gas operators a green light to drill. Over 97 percent of those permits are located in the Rocky Mountain region.

Top five states with permits issued not drilled


State Permits issued not drilled Percentage of national total


Wyoming 3,528 53.7%


New Mexico 1,307 19.9%


Utah 775 11.8%


Colorado 571 8.7%


Montana 203 3.1%


n/a 6,384 97.1%

The numbers come in stark contrast to claims made by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) who introduced legislation in May 2011 that would weaken current environmental and public health protections, opening-up public lands in the West to reckless development.

It is anticipated that Sen. Barrasso may attempt to add amendments to offshore resource assessment or offshore drilling safety legislation, the “American Energy and Western Jobs Act,” being heard on Thursday in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“Sen. Barrasso clearly has his sights set in the wrong direction. Rather than making improvements, he wants to go back to the days of ‘lease first, think later’,” said Bill Eikenberry, a former director of the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming.

Eikenberry can speak from strong experience. He was responsible for 1,000 employees and managed 18 million acres of public land in Wyoming.

Wyoming data stood out in the analysis, showing that over 53 percent of undeveloped permits nationally are located in the state.

Eikenberry believes that energy development can occur in conjunction with the common sense reforms that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar implemented in 2010 to bring about better planning and proper scientific review.

“Sec. Salazar is right that we can both develop American energy resources and protect water, land, and wildlife habitat. Senator Barrasso should join in that pursuit, not fight against it,” said Eikenberry.

The analysis, conducted by The Wilderness Society and entitled “Sitting Pretty,” also highlights an earlier U.S. Department of Interior report that the oil and gas industry is failing to develop 57 percent of its current onshore leases and even onshore permits where there is a green light to drill.

Sportsmen such as Oscar Simpson of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in New Mexico affirmed that “Drill, Baby, Drill” rhetoric by politicians and industry failed to take into account the facts on the ground and would lead to needlessly sacrificing land, water, and wildlife resources.

“Industry is demanding we hand over more public lands despite the millions of acres of leased land not being developed or thousands of unused drilling permits.” said Simpson. “We’re told that we have to choose between energy development and protection for water and wildlife. That’s simply unacceptable.”

The analysis also shows that oil and gas drilling development in the West and nationally is now back to pre-recession levels and nearing a 20 year high thanks to oil development in places like the Bakken shale oil play in North Dakota.

“We have high levels of production and drilling, while oil and gas companies are holding on to even more leases and permits than they can use, yet this industry continues to push for more of our public lands, more permits, and shortcuts or full-on exemptions from environmental laws, as do some in Congress,” said Nada Culver, Director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center, who authored the analysis.

“These statistics tell a compelling story: Oil and gas companies don’t need more giveaways,” continued Culver.

Please read the full analysis by The Wilderness Society for additional statistics by state on oil and gas development and access.