Petition to Halt Drilling on Public Lands a 'Step in Wrong Direction'

An energy industry association criticized a petition launched by Rep. Raul Grivalva (D-Ariz), calling on Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack to halt drilling and mining on public lands while U.S. government employees and visitors to national parks remain locked out during the federal government shutdown.

“Shutting down private-sector productive activities on public lands, which return more revenue to taxpayers than the government spends administering the programs, is the wrong direction for the federal government at a time of fiscal difficulties,” said Kathleen M. Sgamma, vice president of government & public affairs with the Western Energy Alliance, in a statement to Rigzone.

Sgamma noted that oil and natural gas production on federal lands returns $88.76 for every dollar appropriated for BLM’s onshore program. Unlike national parks, which are specific parks with gated entrances, there are 700 million acres of federal with mineral potential, the vast majority in the West, which remain open to the public including hunters, anglers, bikers, ranchers, and others.

In an Oct. 3 letter to Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack, Grijalva expressed concern over the lack of oversight of oil and gas activities on public lands, particularly because of the scarcity of manpower to respond to emergencies, pollution issues or other rapid response needs.

“Just because the government is dysfunctional doesn’t mean we should shut down productive, private sector economic development,” Sgamma commented. “It appears that Rep. Grijalva, in his vindictiveness to productive users of public lands, wants to help kill private sector jobs in addition to those government jobs directly threatened by the shutdown.”

Over 61,000 people have signed the petition since Monday morning. Launched by, the petition will be delivered to Secretary Jewell and Secretary Vilsack this week.

Sgamma noted that oil and gas companies cannot move forward with wells that have not already been permitted. While other inspections may have been halted due to the furlough, this doesn’t mean that companies don’t comply with all their regulatory requirements.

“They are still bound by all laws and regulations, whether an inspector shows up or not,” Sgamma noted.

Thousands of federal employees have been furloughed due to the government shutdown, employees responsible for inspection and enforcement will be needed to perform and oversee actions as well as shut-ins, recompletions and downhole/equipment changes in drilling and plugging operations. A limited number of employees also will be needed to patrol oil and gas fields to prevent theft of oil or condensate does not occur, according to a report by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

While the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) receives permanent funding from other sources for some of this work, on the inspection and enforcement work associated with protection of human life and property is continued during a shutdown.

“Because of the management and support needed from regular appropriated accounts, the BLM has determined it cannot maintain employees funded through permanent accounts who are assigned to non-excepted work,” according to the report. was launched earlier this year. Since then, over 950,000 activists have joined campaigns on a number of issues, including a call for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to stop funding pro-Keystone XL pipeline ads.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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