Is the deficit fix right beneath our feet?

Nearly $130 trillion in oil and gas resources are buried under US government land, worth about 8 times our national debt. But tapping it isn't so easy.

By Aimee Picchi Feb 6, 2013 1:13PM

Oil derricks -- Comstock/CorbisA solution to the country's growing national debt sits right beneath Americans' feet, according to a report from the nonprofit Institute for Energy Research.

That's the $128 trillion in technically recoverable oil and gas resources below 41 million acres of federally owned land, according to the group, which advocates for "freely-functioning energy markets." The chief executive of the group is a former director of policy analysis at Enron.

The "federal government’s mineral estate land holdings surpass the total surface land area of the nation of Canada," according to the report. "These holdings, as we will see, are vastly underutilized."

Most of those below-ground assets are mineral and energy resources, such as oil and coal. Among those hidden deposits are 10.4 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the continental shelf off the lower 48 states, the report notes. 

Right now, the government leases only about 2% of federal offshore areas and 6% of onshore lands. 

But tapping those resources isn't so easy. 

For one, not all federally controlled lands are open to leasing, as noted by the Congressional Budget Office in a study last year.

Leasing is statutorily prohibited in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, the CBO noted. It estimated that opening the land up to development would lead to about $5 billion in additional revenue over the next decade. 

And opening the refuge and other wilderness areas to drilling and mining would undoubtedly spur a backlash from Americans who believe such areas should remain undisturbed by mining and other human activities.

One such group is the Defenders of Wildlife, a national nonprofit conservation organization that advocates protecting the area. According to its site, "the Arctic Refuge is under assault. The oil industry and its political allies continue to launch attacks to open this national treasure to destructive oil and gas drilling, while climate change threatens to disrupt its habitats faster than wildlife can adapt." 

It's not as if U.S. taxpayers aren't already benefiting from minerals hidden under the country's federally owned land. Revenue from all oil and gas leases on public lands will amount to $150 billion over the next 10 years, according to the CBO. 

With the Institute for Energy Research pushing for greater development, it may be taking the advice of oilman J. Paul Getty, who said, "The meek shall inherit the earth but not its mineral rights."

More on moneyNOW

Feb 6, 2013 1:44PM
We need to do more to exploit our resources. It can be done without damaging the environment. We have come a long way in 40 years.
Feb 6, 2013 4:14PM

We are the number 3 producer of oil in the world and now import less than half of our needs.


Problem is, what we produce here gets shipped out of here to be sold on the world market. Why? Because it is worth more to the oil companies, which we subsidize, on the world market. This why we need to end subsidies to oil companies that don't give a rat's **** about we the people who pay to fund their record profits with the subsidies we provide. Better yet, if they want the subsidies, require oil companies to sell a certain percentage to the US market to keep gas prices low for we the people.

Feb 6, 2013 3:10PM
Never mind, just make people who work really hard pay more in taxes for the current waste in Washington DC.

Not with this administration and the EPA, etc.   Only reason why we have so much Natural gas is due to private ownership of the driilling land in No. Dakota and elsewhere. 


This administration is fighting tooth and nail to prevent the use of "Fracking".  Here in Northwestern Wisconsin we are booming with frack sand mining and processing and there are those that don't care that people are working.  They can't stand change and prosperity and fight against fracking every chance they get..


Natural gas is the alternative fuel until something better comes along.  Until then, Natural Gas is king.

Feb 6, 2013 3:20PM

how the hell is the american taxpayer benefiting?  Public land is leased to companies who turn around and charge extrodinary prices for their product back to the public who owned the resource in the first place.  Then this same company whines and complains that the tax rate they pay is too high and if they are not given a break they will have to stop providing jobs.


Public lands have been set aside for ALL generations to enjoy, NOT for this one to make off with all the goods and leave nothing behind.


I am all for using resources of public lands to benefit our country, but the idea to take as much as you can, as fast as you can, with methods that are as cheap as you can, then rip off the people who own the land in the first place is just WRONG!

Feb 6, 2013 2:54PM
not if the oil companies have their way.  it's a simple concept called supply and demand.  if they can fraudulently keep supplies low-  profits go up!   rm, mba.
Feb 6, 2013 3:23PM
If the oil companies would guarantee none of it would ever be exported, I say go for it.  But of course they will never agree to that.
Feb 6, 2013 1:50PM
If every drop of oil and every chunk of coal were mined with a vengeance, there would be NO reduction in the US deficit. The net result would be a very few greedy elite and select mega-corporations becoming even more wealthy and powerful by using a small portion of their profits to buy more of the US government (self serving politicians), to their advantage. If anything, it would increase the deficit by grubbing even more money for the infinitely rich on the backs of the taxpayer and energy consumer. 
Feb 6, 2013 3:26PM
This is an national resource, and not for the energy companys to exploit. If we drill it here, it stays here; and if it's sold on the market, it goes to the treasury. But  we all know that won't happen with our corrupt Congress. Energy, banking, higher education, and health care should not be in the hands of Wall Street. I guess that makes me a Commie. Comrad Jim
Feb 6, 2013 4:05PM

1.  Enact a 2% national sales tax on ALL sales.  No exceptions.

2.  Enact an unrevokable law that 100% of the revenue MUST be used to write down the debt.

3.  Require that Congress pass and adhere to a balanced budget.

4.  In less than 15 years when the national debt has been retired, the 2% national sales tax MUST end.

5.  If Congress does not adhere to either 2 or 3 above, the national sales tax will end immediately.

Feb 6, 2013 3:45PM
I am incredulous!  The republicans have been saying this for years.  The democrats have been fighting this for years. OBAMA has been fighting this for years.  NOW that the second election is over the MEDIA is now on board.  You people in the media and on MSN are sooooooo in the tank for Obama and the democrats.  Seriously, can you NOT SEE your hypocricy?
Feb 6, 2013 3:49PM

While the U.S. oil industry wants access to more federal lands to help reduce reliance on foreign suppliers, U.S.-based companies are shipping record amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel to other countries.

A record 1.6 million barrels a day in U.S. refined petroleum products were exported during the first four months of this year, up 33 percent from 1.2 million barrels a day over the same period in 2007. Shipments this February topped 1.8 million barrels a day for the first time during any month, according to final numbers from the Energy Department.

The oil companies want the pipelines built now so they can take all of our oil and ship it out of this country.  Congress just passed a bill allowing them to take large quantities of natural gas and ship them to other countries.   


Feb 6, 2013 3:26PM

I must be missing something:


"The "federal government’s mineral estate land holdings surpass the total surface land area of the nation of Canada," according to the report.


"That's the $128 trillion in technically recoverable oil and gas resources below 41 million acres of federally owned land"


41 million acres = 64,062 square miles

Total area of Canada = 3,854,085 square miles - 344,080 sq miles of water. = huh?


Feb 6, 2013 4:11PM
And every penny will go to the oil companies because they own this country.
Feb 6, 2013 3:25PM
We need Oil on Hand incase of another Hugh War.  Our fleet, air craft, soldiers, and marines do not run on dirt.  We have the means to run our military with 70% less oil.  But as the Oil Heads will tell you there is no profits in building refineries, but in creating shortages.  For the government to release our reserves at this time will be a threat to our country.  Yet we need alternative fuels.  Like God has given us a renewal fuel in HYDROGEN.  Yet the Auto industries have already built Vehicles that run well on Hydrogen, all you have to do is replace Gasoline with Hydrogen, very little has to be done with the Engine.  So what is the hold up   OH I KNOW ( who own's the PATENTS)  I'll give you 3 guess's and the first 2 don't count.
Feb 6, 2013 3:27PM
We have to do something. If we raise taxes enough to balance local, state and federal budgets, plus payoff the federal debt at 5% interest in 15 years, it will take 70 to 75% of the per capita consumer income. This will decrease per capita consumption by 67 to 70% which means economic disaster.
Feb 6, 2013 4:13PM
Isn't it amazing that democrats claim to be the BIG environmentalists, but it was Nixon, and then GW Bush that signed the Clean Air Act into law, giving "teeth" to the E.P.A.
Feb 6, 2013 4:13PM

The day will come when the world says, you know the U.S. has more oil and gas then anyone. Of course at that time oil and gas will be almost worthless.  Right now what's worthless is the U.S. government. When was the last time the U.S. did anything right?   Please, it's a serious question.

Feb 6, 2013 3:58PM
we need altenative fuels and resources.  like windmills, electric cars, solar power panels and everything else thats not affordable. so we can really sink in debt , Then eight years later we can still blame Bush .
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