Originally created 11/29/06

Much of U.S. oil, gas off limits, study says



WASHINGTON - About half the oil and more than a quarter of the natural gas inventoried on 99 million acres of federal land are off limits to drilling because of significant environmental and other restrictions, the government said Tuesday in a new report the energy industry sought as part of a campaign to win access to it.

Only 3 percent of the oil and 13 percent of gas under federal lands is accessible under standard lease terms requiring only basic protections for the environment and cultural resources, according to the survey released Tuesday. Technically, the study was ordered by Congress, but the industry wanted it to help make a point.

An additional 46 percent of the oil and 60 percent of the gas "may be developed subject to additional restrictions including no surface occupancy" or bans during part of the year to protect animal habitat or sensitive terrain, the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management said in the report.

Although not technically off limits, oil and gas companies have contended that those restrictions often make actual development difficult or impossible.

In the new inventory, the amount of oil considered accessible without limit declined by about two-thirds from 2.2 billion barrels to 743 million barrels. Accessible natural gas was cut by about the same proportion, from 87 trillion cubic feet to 25 trillion cubic feet.

The survey didn't examine oil or gas resources offshore, including in the Gulf of Mexico.