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 7:36PM
If you really care about the environment then you would support these operations in the US where we have environmental controls in place, rather then buying oil from terrorists who don't have ANY environmental controls!  They could care less about any life other than their own and yet the environmentals are in full support of them inadvertently by disallowing responsible drilling.
Feb 6, 2013 7:33PM
Feb 6, 2013 7:29PM
if canada is the second largest contry in the world, how can the us gov hold more mineral lands than canada?
Feb 6, 2013 7:21PM
Romney was talking about that but no one listened...all eyes were turned at obama
Feb 6, 2013 7:18PM
The American people should start drilling on 10% of the land - and let the the profits go to covering the debt. Still develop green energy - it is the furture. Save land for wild life.
Feb 6, 2013 7:16PM
This is one of the pigs that ripped off  the hourly workers at Enron, he wants to rip off everyone in the US now.  If we stopped wasting natural resources we would be much closer to not needing to import oil.  Get smaller cars!
Feb 6, 2013 7:15PM
This is nothing new. I know of a former gas company employee who said they capped wells 30-40 years ago just to control natural gas prices. That sure ain't gonna change. K-ching!
Feb 6, 2013 7:12PM

Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like "the economy," "inflation," or "politics" that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do. Those 545 people and they alone, are responsible. They and they alone, have the power. They and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses. Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees... We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

Charlie Reese is a former columnist of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper.

What you do with this article now that you have read it... is up to you.

This might be funny if it weren't so true.

Be sure to read all the way to the end:

Tax his land, Tax his bed, Tax the table, at which he's fed. Tax his tractor, Tax his mule, and teach him taxes are the rule.

Tax his work, Tax his pay, He works for peanuts anyway! Tax his cow, Tax his goat, Tax his pants, Tax his coat. Tax his ties, Tax his shirt, Tax his work, Tax his dirt. Tax his tobacco, Tax his drink, Tax him if he tries to think. Tax his cigars, Tax his beers, if he cries Tax his tears. Tax his car, Tax his gas, and find other ways to tax his ****. Tax all he has then let him know that you won't be done till he has no dough. When he screams and hollers; then tax him some more, tax him till he's good and sore. Then tax his coffin, Tax his grave, Tax the sod in which he's laid... Put these words upon his tomb, “Taxes drove me to my doom...”

When he's gone, do not relax, it’s time to apply the inheritance tax. Accounts Receivable Tax, Building Permit Tax, CDL license Tax, Cigarette Tax, Corporate Income Tax, Dog License Tax, Excise Taxes, Federal Income Tax, Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA), Fishing License Tax, Food License Tax, Fuel Permit Tax, Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon), Gross Receipts Tax, Hunting License Tax, Inheritance Tax, Inventory Tax, IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax), Liquor Tax, Luxury Taxes, Marriage License Tax, Medicare Tax, Personal Property Tax, Property Tax, Real Estate Tax, Service Charge Tax, Social Security Tax, Road Usage Tax, Recreational Vehicle Tax, Sales Tax, School Tax, State Income Tax, State Unemployment Tax (SUTA), Telephone Federal Excise Tax, Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax, Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes, Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax, Telephone Recurring and Nonrecurring Charges Tax, Telephone State and Local Tax, Telephone Usage Charge Tax, Utility Taxes, Vehicle License Registration Tax, Vehicle Sales Tax, Watercraft Registration Tax, Well Permit Tax, Workers Compensation Tax.


Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids. What in the heck happened? Can you spell 'Politicians?' I hope this goes around THE USA at least 545 times!!! YOU can help it get there!!!


Feb 6, 2013 7:12PM

Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Have you ever wondered if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits? Have you ever wondered if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes? You and I don't propose a federal budget. The President does. You and I don't have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don't write the tax code, Congress does. You and I don't set fiscal policy, Congress does. You and I don't control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does. One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country. I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank. I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator's responsibility to determine how he votes. Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party. What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits… (The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.) The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? (John Boehner. He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want. ) If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to. [The House has passed a budget but the Senate has not approved a budget in over three years. The President's proposed budgets have gotten almost unanimous rejections in the Senate in that time. It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts -- of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can't think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist. If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair.  If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red. If the Army & Marines is in Iraq and Afghanistan it's because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan … If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it's because they want it that way. There are no insoluble government problems. 

Feb 6, 2013 7:10PM

This should be on the front page of every newspaper.

Charley Reese's final column for the Orlando Sentinel... He has been a journalist for 49 years. He is retiring and this is HIS LAST COLUMN. COMPLETELY NEUTRAL

This is about as clear and easy to understand as it can be. The article below is completely neutral, neither anti-Republican, nor Democrat. Charlie Reese, a retired reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, has hit the nail directly on the head, defining clearly who it is that in the final analysis must assume responsibility for the judgments made that impact each one of us every day. It's a short but good read. Worth the time, worth remembering!

545 vs. 300,000,000 People

Read follow up post!!

Feb 6, 2013 7:09PM
Use it to fuel government vehicles and the military equipment as a start.
That alone would save tax payers instead of getting ripped off by Big Oil jacking the prices up as consumption drops. 
Feb 6, 2013 7:02PM

We need to decide whether we wish to preserve the last of the species we haven't destroyed or just keep running through oil until it's gone along with the species who live near it. 

Feb 6, 2013 6:58PM

No fracking, oil, natural gas or pipe lines in the lower 48 are in the Artic Refuge, go somewhere else and destroy your childrens future. The takers have their greedy eyes on prestine lands and clean water,  we do not want the takers near our lands and will fight tooth and nail to stop them..the people are tired of gas in their drinking water and oil in their rivers and aquafiers..


Feb 6, 2013 6:45PM
"Revenue from all oil and gas leases on public lands will amount to $150 billion over the next 10 years, according to the CBO. "

The nation owns its own minerals. But the Federal government leases the land to oil companies for a pittance who pump out the oil/gas and sell it back to the original owners, us Americans, at huge mark-ups.  That's how they have record profits year after year.  The oil/gas companies make trillions of dollars and pay us about 15 billion a year.  What a deal!  How about we hire them as contractors, pay them as such, to pump and refine the oil while we own the oil the whole time.  Oil companies will still make a great living but they won't be making the obscene profits they're making right now by selling our own oil to us.  That's how every other country does it.  And that's why oil companies pour millions into the coffers of politicians to keep them from passing laws that favor nation's financial well-being above oil company execs' bonuses.
Feb 6, 2013 6:33PM





Feb 6, 2013 6:24PM
Maybe our idiot president should read this story but he is too pompous and arrogant, and too worried about pushing his "green energy" down everyone's throat.  Which by the way has flopped numerous times, anyone heard of Solyndra?  Tap these resources so they quit killing us at the pump.  I also love the four designated spots for electric cars at my local grocery store, which by the way I have never seen any kind of electric car parked there.  Our president's decisions are about as wise as everyone that elected them into office not only once, but twice.  But than again, why would anyone want to have to work when they get to receive freebies from our twisted government and all of the hardworking Americans.  Hey 47% (poor people, illegals, etc.), take your excuses, complaints and shove em! 
Feb 6, 2013 6:22PM
Let's wake  up.  We need to become solar efficient.  Jobs will be created just like the industrial period.  This BS that we can continue as we are is like driving down Mt Everest in a sled.  Impossible.  The climate is affected, peoples lives are effected.  All  we can  think about is how to make more money.  No we need to address the law and  regulations to protect us from the bankers, wallstreeters who  want to  rob us of the money, the trilllions they have in over seas accounts.  It's like we  are agreeing that the organized crime cartel can take over.  We need to demand Detroit, Ford,  Chrysler sell only cars that are environmentally and solar efficient. The best way to  do  that is to not buy their hummers, their miserable big cars.  Let them sell over seas.  We have the best opportunity to become solar wise, solar efficient and solar powered.  This would put us  back on top  in a heart beat.  No  questions asked.  We've already gone through a depression, we've faced the miserable economy, now we need to tell these cooperations we won't take it anymore.   Take your China made junk and lets get back into  the saddle with American, green, solar products.   Take back the resources, the land where we  farm for others and not for ourselves.  If it's not USA made, then trash  it  infact, send it  back  where it was made and let them trash it. 
Feb 6, 2013 6:18PM
Total BS and lies. All this Oil and Gas and it can't be reached in conventional ways and if it could, you are talking ten plus years to even see any results and by then, the price of oil will be $200.00 a barrel and gasoline will be selling at $10.00 a gallon. Our only hope is all cars will run on electric and then watch the utility companies become the new oil bandits with outrageous electric charges. Let's face it, the days of cheap gas is totally dead as the average cost will now be $3.50 per gallon and continuing to rise as more lies from speculation are being spread about Iran, Refineries closing for maintenance three months ahead of schedule and bombs blowing up office buildings in Mexico that don't have a dam thing to do with oil production or supply and demand and to top the whole dam lying process, they say we are buying gas and oil from Canada..WTF is next?
Feb 6, 2013 6:14PM
Duh, we've known of these reserves for decades. Too much red tape is whats stopping us from tapping said reserves, and no, its not because of the Caribou.

Im hoping our strategy is to wait until the rest of the world says "were out" and we go "oh, looks like we had our own all along, $500/bbl, kthxbye" but I doubt there will be much of an America left, were stupid enough to sell the land to china at this point.

Feb 6, 2013 6:01PM
I read some where that Obama promised rights  to china because of our debt
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