Big Oil loves it when Obama puts federal lands off-limits (But Big Oil isn't really who you think it is) 

President Obama and some of his congressional Democratic allies have recently trotted out the old familiar argument that oil companies have millions of acres worth of leases on federal lands that they haven't used yet, so they ought to quit complaining about growing government delays in auctioning new leases.

It sounds like a logical argument until it runs into the reality provided by the answer to two basic questions - How much federal land is actually off-limits and who benefits from those lands being kept off limits?

Based on government data, the answer to the first question is this: Ninety four percent of federal onshore lands are off-limits to oil and gas exploration, while 97 percent of offshore federal lands are off-limits.

So virtually all of the public lands now owned by the American people but controlled by the federal government isn't even eligible to be placed on the auction block for bidding by U.S. companies for energy exploration rights leasing.

Who benefits from this lockup of virtually all of America's public lands from American energy companies? Well, here's the top beneficiaries:

* National Iranian Oil Company

* Saudi Arabian Oil Company

* Iraq National Oil Company

* Qatar General Petroleum Corporation

* Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (UAE)

* Kuwait Petroleum Corporation

* Petroleos de Venezuela.S.A.

* Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

* National Oil Company (Libya)

* Sonatrach (Algeria)

 Those are the ten biggest oil companies in the world. Notice what they have in common? They are all state-owned enterprises, including more than a few in states run either by monarchies or tin-horn dictators. All of them are subject to deep political unrest and many have rulers and/or populations that hate the U.S.

Here's something else they share: When the U.S. government prevents domestic energy firms to explore and develop this country's incredibly abundant resources - we are "the Saudi Arabia of coal" and could be swimming in cheap gas if we developed our plentiful oil shale resources - Americans are forced to import more foreign oil.

That's why we currently import nearly three-fourths of all the oil we consume. And guess where most of that foreign oil comes from? You got it, those Top 10 companies listed above. So every time Obama delays another lease or drilling permit, oil potentates like King Faisal, Hugo Chavez, and Ghadaffi grin from ear-to-ear because they know it means more dollars coming to them.

And just to put these facts into further clarifying context, America's biggest energy company is ExxonMobil, which is second on the Fortune 500 and is currently valued at approximately $153 billion. The SaudiArabian Oil Company that is the world's second largest owns the world's largest reserves and is valued at more than $2 trillion.

So when politicians talk about "Big Oil," ask them if they know where ExxonMobil ranks among the world's 10 biggest oil companies. Chances are excellent they won't have a clue that the answer is "nowhere."

As Thomas Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research notes about recent comments by several senators pushing new "use-it-or-lose-it" regulations for federal leasing:

"These senators are attempting to portray energy producers as hoarders of taxpayer-owned lands. The truth is that the federal government only makes 3 percent of these lands available for leasing, while the remaining 97 percent are off-limits for energy exploration and production."

"As long as the federal government continues to hoard these energy-rich, taxpayer-owned lands and keeps them off limits to the American people, the U.S. will continue to rely on foreign state-owned oil companies. No amount of rhetoric from Washington will change that fact."

For more on these issues, go here on the IER web site. IER is an industry backed think tank.

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Mark Tapscott

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