Renewable Energy Development on Public Lands Highlighted in Interagency Report to Congress

Last edited 09/05/2019

Last edit: May 9, 2011

WASHINGTON – Even as the nation battled the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Administration continued to make significant gains last year in expanding renewable energy initiatives on public lands and offshore areas, according to a detailed report submitted to Congress by the Interior and Agriculture departments.

“To increase our energy security and to help reduce costs for American consumers, we must continue our balanced and comprehensive approach to energy development on public lands and waters,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “The New Energy Frontier report describes the milestone progress we are making in harnessing America's solar, wind, and geothermal potential, while also supporting safer and more environmentally responsible conventional energy development.”

“Winning America's energy future requires generating energy from a broad portfolio of home-grown renewable options,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The report released today details the progress we've made in leveraging federal resources to help move our country towards a stronger energy future and reduces our need for importing foreign oil.”

The joint USDA and DOI report, New Energy Frontier – Balancing Energy Development on Federal Lands, responds to congressional interest regarding the development of renewable and conventional energy from federal lands and Outer Continental Shelf areas. The report documents the progress made to date and the Administration's plan of action for continued initiatives to ensure accountability, efficiency and responsibility in the management of Federal energy resources.

Among other initiatives, the report described the Administration's efforts to spur the development of environmentally responsible commercial-scale wind, geothermal and solar projects in the West and to open appropriate areas of the Atlantic Ocean to wind turbine farms -- areas that hold vast energy resources. The development of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewable energy systems that can substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions on a lifecycle basis has been a top priority under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

In addition, Secretary Vilsack and USDA are helping our nation develop the next generation of biofuels and wood to energy options to grow jobs and generate energy from new, homegrown sources. President Obama is committed to reducing the nation's net imports of oil by one-third by 2025 and in support of this goal the administration plans to break ground on four biorefineries in the next two years. The United States holds only 2 percent of proven oil resources, and we consume about 25 percent of world's supply. The production of cleaner and more efficient fuels, produced domestically, will help to make America's energy supply more secure by permanently reducing our dependence on oil. USDA is doing research into new biofuel production methods and has established five regional research centers working on the science necessary to ensure biofuels can be produced profitably from a diverse range of feedstocks. USDA is also offering support to build the infrastructure needed to deliver the fuel to consumers at the gas station.

Among the departments' major renewable energy initiatives last year:

  • Interior's Bureau of Land Management approved nine large-scale solar projects, with a total generating capacity of 3,682 MW. BLM also received more than 100 additional applications for utility-scale solar energy projects in four western states;
  • This past year, USDA launched a major new Wood-to-Energy Initiative that seeks to build a forest restoration economy by integrating wood-to-energy activities within the larger forest products sector. Consisting of a broad-scale effort to coordinate USDA technical and program support to stimulate the wood-to-energy sector, the initiative takes its cue from the Administration's emphasis on the role of renewable fuels and forest restoration in sustaining rural jobs and prosperity. In our National Forests, USDA has helped remove 86,927 tons of biomass to produce energy.
  • Identified 24 solar energy study areas in six western states, comprising more than 1,000 square miles, being analyzed in detail to determine if they are appropriate for Solar Energy Zones with the potential to be used for large-scale solar energy production;
  • USDA's Rural Energy for America Program can provide funding for the development of renewable energy projects on public lands, such as wind and solar projects. In the past two years, REAP has assisted in more than 270 wind energy project across the country.
  • Utilized the ‘Smart from the Start' approach used in processing solar projects in the West to guide the Atlantic OCS wind energy initiative to facilitate siting, leasing and construction and spur the rapid and responsible development of the region's vast offshore wind resources;
  • States all along the Atlantic coast are actively pursuing development of OCS wind resources under the Smart from the Start initiative to help achieve renewable energy goals; and industry is considering the potential for offshore wind development in a number of areas;
  • Expanded the 25 wind energy facilities on BLM lands in the West by approving four new projects and reviewing and processing 47 additional project applications;
  • Through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, USDA has provided funding for the development of new tools to better evaluate the impact of expanded biofuel production on the environment and to assess the potential of using federal land resources to sustainably increase feedstock production for biofuels and biobased products.
  • Worked to increase geothermal energy production on public lands, approving four priority geothermal projects in Nevada since 2009; BLM oversees 58 geothermal leases in a producing status covering about 56,000 acres on BLM lands and 120 geothermal leases covering 134,000 acres on U.S. Forest Service lands; a reasonably foreseeable development scenario indicates a potential for 12,210 MW of electrical generating capacity from 244 geothermal power plants by 2025.

The report also details how traditional oil and gas resources produced from Federal lands and waters, which presently account for about 30 percent of the Nation's energy supply, will continue to play a major role in meeting the Nation's needs. U.S. natural gas production also is increasing, reaching 26.9 trillion cubic feet in 2010, a 5 percent increase from 2008 and the highest level in more than 30 years. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for more than 25 percent of domestically produced oil and about 15 percent of natural gas.

Offshore oil production from the Outer Continental Shelf has increased by more than a third, from 446 million barrels in 2008 to about 600 million barrels in 2010. Onshore, oil production from public lands increased 5 percent over the last year, from 109 million barrels in 2009 to 114 million barrels in 2010. Overall, oil imports have fallen by 9 percent since 2008, and net imports as a share of total consumption declined from 57 percent in 2008 to less than 50 percent in 2010.

The report describes the Administration's strategy for encouraging increased conventional energy production from these areas by offering millions of acres of public land for oil and gas exploration and production. In 2010, the Bureau of Land Management held 33 lease sales covering 3.2 million acres and will hold an additional 33 lease sales in 2011.

Currently, 38.2 million acres of onshore public lands are under lease for oil and gas development, of which only 16.6 million acres are active while 21.6 million acres are inactive. In 2010, the BLM processed more than 5,200 applications for permits to drill on federal and Indian lands and expects to process more than 7,200 of these applications in 2011. Offshore, in 2010, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement offered 36.9 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration and production; 37.9 million acres of the Outer Continental Shelf are under ac-tive lease, of which 6.5 million acres are producing.

The U.S. energy industry remains interested in these opportunities, the report notes, continuing to bid for onshore oil and gas leases. The Department of the Interior has been swiftly implementing stronger environmental protections for offshore development—from safety and environmental management systems to subsea containment—that are creating a higher standard for new Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas development.

Investments in biofuels, renewable energy, and domestic oil and natural gas production will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, revitalize American manufacturing, and create jobs here at home.

The report also details the needed regulatory reforms undertaken to strengthen the safety and oversight of offshore exploration, development and production in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The reforms have raised the bar for safety and environmental responsibility, setting standards and certification protocols for drilling well design, testing and control equipment and establishing rigorous performance standards to improve workplace safety and require operators to maintain comprehensive safety and environmental management programs.

To view the report, click here.


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