Most of us don’t realize that the largest landowner in the United States is not a private investor or a foundation, it’s Uncle Sam. Roughly a third of America’s total land mass is owned by the federal government, and in several western states, Washington, D.C. holds the title to more than half the acreage. Tactics by the BLM to delay or deny access to energy development on federal property are limiting America’s ability to tap vast new energy resources that can help lower energy costs, increase our energy security, and add billions in tax revenues to government coffers. 

In August, nearly two months before the shutdown, a Government Accounting Office report found that the BLM was a picture of inefficiency, issuing only half the number of permits in 2012 as it did for oil and gas development in 2007. So rife with snafus was the BLM’s database that it could not process requests within the 30-day deadline mandated by federal law, the GAO audit found. It takes regulators in Texas an average of five days to review and approve a drilling permit and they are shooting for three days. The BLM in Washington can’t get the job done over the course of several a months, on average, and was the focus of special legislation—The Energy Policy Act of 2005—aimed at forcing the office to do its job.  


If that wasn’t bad enough for Americans, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wants to become the new champion of energy obstruction. Grijalva, who is the ranking member of a subcommittee responsible for 600 million acres of federal land, initiated a petition to stop the production of oil and gas on federal land during the federal shutdown. There was no mention of halting solar energy projects or windmills in Grijalva’s petition.

If Washington policymakers permitted more responsible exploration and drilling on holdings already designated and approved for energy development, they could create 208,000 new jobs, inject $26.5 billion into the economy while providing $5 billion in tax revenues to a government that professes to have money problems, a study by University of Wyoming Professor Timothy Considine found. Despite our misdirected energy policies, America’s energy industry has been one of the few forces in leading America out of its prolonged recession. Direct oil and gas extraction jobs in the United States nearly doubled between 2005 and 2011. Very little of this growth took place on federal land, due to the complexity of red tape, needless government bureaucracy and the intentional slow walking of drilling permits.

All of us care for the environment and protection of our wilderness lands. The energy industry has a proven track record of safely and responsibly exploring for and drilling for oil and natural gas. All of America will benefit from more affordable, reliable energy and the creation of thousands of new energy and energy-related manufacturing jobs.

This latest government shutdown has pushed Washington into a white hot spotlight showcasing its inefficiency, partisanship, and endless political bickering. Now that the federal government’s doors are open for business, let’s hope our policy makers can get serious about increasing energy production in America.   

Simmons is director of Regulatory and State Affairs at the Institute for Energy Research.