Oil companies should use it or lose it

Last updated on June 9th, 2022 at 02:06 am

At the listening sessions I hold in every county of the state each year, Wisconsinites are rightly demanding action to lower the soaring oil prices that are devastating consumers at the pump and sending a rippling effect through our entire economy.


In the long term, we have to aggressively pursue alternative fuels, renewable energy, and energy efficiency to solve the energy crisis.  But there are also some things we can do in the short term to help the many Wisconsinites who are struggling to provide for their day-to-day needs because of high gas prices.


For starters, one of the quickest ways to increase oil production is by focusing on lands already under lease by oil companies. Oil companies collectively are not producing on about three-quarters of the federal lands and waters they have under lease. That’s 68 million acres of lands and water that could potentially be producing oil, where leases have already been issued and miles and miles of pipeline, oilfield valves and other infrastructure are already in place.


To help spur oil development on these lands, I introduced “use it or lose it” legislation requiring oil companies to show they are either producing oil or gas on current leases, or making progress on exploring and developing those leases, before they obtain more federal leases.


Coal companies already comply with requirements that they diligently develop federally leased lands – why should oil companies be given special treatment? My bill would create industry-wide accountability standards, which many of the oil companies say they are already capable of meeting.


Oil companies continue to ask for more federal lands when they aren’t producing oil on most of their current leases. The federal government has supported drilling on these lands in recent years by increasing the number of drilling permits for public lands by 361 percent from 1999 to 2007.


As a result, oil companies now sit on nearly 10,000 unused permits from the Bureau of Land Management that they could use immediately to drill.


This failure to produce oil is even more surprising given that an oil executive told me at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that they have the manpower and infrastructure to put all their existing leases of federal lands into oil production.


I support responsible efforts to increase domestic production. But in the long term, the solution to our energy crisis is to end what the president has called our addiction to oil.  The president’s own Energy Information Administration has found that, even if we open up all offshore areas currently off-limits, there would be an insignificant effect on oil prices.


We’re already the third-biggest producer of oil in the world, but with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, we simply cannot drill ourselves out of the problem.


We must diversify our energy portfolio – particularly in the transportation sector where 70 percent of oil is used. We need a real investment in alternative fuels and renewable energies and an emphasis on conservation and efficiency. Wisconsin has been a national leader in these areas, and that’s something that can boost our economy in the long run by providing green jobs and energy security. I will continue to push on all fronts for policies that address high gas prices and move us toward renewable energy sources.


U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold represents Wisconsin.

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