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Fossil fuel development on federal lands accounts for 24% of all U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These emissions can be reduced significantly by requiring federal oil and gas development activity to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has authority to define the terms and conditions of new oil and gas leases and to impose conditions of approval on existing leases at the drilling stage. Using this authority, the BLM could require net zero emissions on some existing and all new oil and gas leases without waiting for congressional action or regulatory changes. Applying existing legal tools would allow for continued energy production while a long-term climate strategy is developed, and still drive significant GHG emission reductions in the meantime. Additionally, green jobs would be created by incentivizing oil and gas operators to generate offset credits by plugging the more than 2 million orphaned or abandoned oil and gas wells that litter the landscape. Finally, the incentive to plug idle wells and retire leases early would reward operators for deciding to keep some fossil fuel resources in the ground.
Stegner Center White Paper No. 2021-01