Burning and extracting fossil fuels on federal lands accounted for nearly one-quarter of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced domestically between 2005 and 2014, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The 44-page report by USGS, released last Friday, also found greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from federal lands annually made up about 7% of the national totals for methane emissions over the 10-year period, and less than 2% of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. The analysis, the first of its kind, did not include emissions from tribal lands.
"Emissions associated with fossil fuel extraction and end-use combustion parallel production levels. States with significant fossil fuel production from federal lands generally have higher estimated GHG emissions," USGS said. But the agency added that it would not be appropriate to rank or compare states for several reasons, including that the report estimated emissions by the state of origin, not the state where the emissions occurred.
"This information may provide context for future energy decisions, as well as serve as a reference to compare future changes in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration on federal lands," USGS said.
That said, Wyoming, a major producer of oil and natural gas, accounted for 727.7 million metric tons (mmt) of CO2 equivalent emissions in 2014, followed by the offshore Gulf of Mexico (GOM) at 235.4 mmt and New Mexico at 80.6 mmt. Louisiana, Colorado and Utah followed at 56.0, 49.6 and 43.1 mmt, respectively. Among the top 10 states or offshore regions for CO2 equivalent emissions that year, Wyoming accounted for 57% of the total, followed by the GOM (19%), New Mexico (6%), Louisiana (5%), Colorado (4%) and Utah (3%).
In terms of methane emissions, Wyoming led the field again in 2014 with 13.1 mmt and 28% among the top 10 states or offshore regions. New Mexico was second (10.8 mmt, 23%), followed by the GOM (9.5 mmt, 20%), Colorado (6.0 mmt, 13%) and Utah (3.5 mmt, 7%).
Nationally, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels on federal lands totaled almost 1,362 mmt in 2005, or 22.2% of the U.S. total. CO2 emissions declined to 1,279 mmt in 2014, but accounted for a larger portion of the national total (23%). Meanwhile, methane emissions from fossil fuels on federal lands ranged from 53.2 mmt (7.4% of U.S. total) in 2005 to 47.6 mmt (6.5%) in 2014, and N2O emissions fell from 6.9 mmt (1.7%) in 2005 to 5.5 mmt (1.4%) in 2014.
The report was a result of an order issued in January 2016 by then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Jewell tasked USGS with producing a database of estimated GHG emissions associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels from federal lands. The database was to be available to the public and updated annually. At the time of Jewell's order, Interior's Bureau of Land Management announced that it would suspend coal leasing on federal lands pending a "comprehensive review" of the program.
Environmental groups seized upon the report's findings and the timing of its release on Nov. 23, aka Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States.
"The U.S. government has kept the American public in the dark for far too long on the climate impact of subsidized oil and gas drilling and coal mining on our public lands," said The Wilderness Society spokesman Chase Huntley. "We know this administration's relentless push to dramatically increase production by recklessly drilling and mining anywhere and everywhere has already threatened important wildlife habitat, recreation areas, and drinking water. Now top government scientists are clear that this foolhardy favoritism of polluters over people is also making the climate crisis even more severe."