NRDC: Drilling Leases Now Cover More Land Than California and Florida Combined

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A truck with the natural gas industry, one of thousands that pass through the area daily, drives through the countryside to a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania.

There’s a land grab going on in America, as the advent of drilling techniques like hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) and horizontal drilling unlock domestic deposits of oil and gas that had earlier had not been economical to drill. New numbers collected by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group, show the massive amount of land involved.

“At the end of 2011, 70 of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the United States held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area approximately the size of California and Florida combined,” the analysis, titled ‘Spreading Like Wildfire,’ says. “This is a minimum number of the acres leased nationwide because we only examined 70 out of hundreds of oil and gas producers in America.”

The report finds that of the 70 companies examined, eight of them were foreign, with leases totaling 8.5 million acres. The largest amount of land belonged to companies like Chesapeake Energy, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips. “30 companies held at least 1 million acres,” the report says.

“And although many of these 141 million acres are already drilled, tens of millions of leased acres are not yet drilled, making them prime targets for drilling and fracking operations in the future,” the NRDC analysis says.

A Congressional Research Service report from January said that 90 percent of new oil and gas wells in the country use fracking, which requires large amounts of water and trucks to deliver it. That has led to more scrutiny of water use in fracking and calls for repairs from drilling-related road damage as well.

While the NRDC’s report focuses on the negative impacts of fracking, the boom has led to new jobs and more money in state coffers. And it has meant plenty of natural gas for power generation that is quickly displacing coal, which can emit more harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Curious about the drilling boom in Texas and what the legislature can do in overseeing it? Join us in Austin tonight for a conversation with state lawmakers, ‘Drilling Down: The Fracking Boom and the Texas Legislature.’ You can find out more here.

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