Energy & Environment

Public land drilling contributes a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in US: report


Drilling on public lands contributes nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to a new Trump administration report.

The first-of-its-kind U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report, released late Friday, found that emissions from fossil fuels produced on federal lands and offshore areas represent an average of 24 percent of all national emissions of carbon, a major contributor to air pollution and climate change.

Wyoming was the top contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Federal lands within the state contributed 57 percent of the climate change contributing emissions across all states and offshore areas combined.

The report was released on the same day as another Trump administration report that raised an alarm over U.S. efforts to stave off the effects of climate change, arguing that they are insufficient. Democrats were quick to criticize the timing of that report’s release — the day after Thanksgiving — and said it highlighted a need to address emissions as soon as possible.

The USGS report, requested in 2016 under President Obama, measured total greenhouse gas emissions from oil, gas and coal drilling and mining on public land between 2005 and 2014. It found that emissions for all three greenhouse gases dropped in 2014 compared to 2005 values, including a 6 percent drop in carbon emissions.

Fluctuations in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel production are closely tied, according to the study.

The Obama administration enacted a number of measures making it harder to drill on public land, including creating over 30 national monuments and expanding the boundaries of a number of others — a designation that forbids fossil fuel extraction.

Environmental groups point out that emissions are likely to be higher today due to the Trump administration’s more active and supportive approach to drilling on federal lands and offshore.

“The US government has kept the American public in the dark for far too long on the climate impact of subsidized oil and gas drilling and coal mining on our public lands. We know this administration’s relentless push to dramatically increase production by recklessly drilling and mining anywhere and everywhere has already threatened important wildlife habitat, recreation areas, and drinking water,” said Chase Huntley, senior director for the Energy and Climate Program at The Wilderness Society, in a statement.

“Now top government scientists are clear that this foolhardy favoritism of polluters over people is also making the climate crisis even more severe.” 

In March, the Interior Department under Secretary Ryan Zinke held the largest sale of oil and gas leases on federal land in U.S. history. Some 77.3 million acres of offshore waters were auctioned for drilling, covering coastal waters in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Thirty-three companies bidded on plots off the coasts of those five states for a total of $124.8 million.

The USGS report found that the forests and other terrain on public lands does help to counter carbon emissions, but only offsets the greenhouse gases released on federal land by 15 percent.

The Interior Department did not return a request for comment on the report’s findings.

Tags Carbon Climate change Drilling emissions Greenhouse gas Public land Ryan Zinke
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