I’ve been writing a series for Fortune in recent weeks tackling questions like, if the U.S. is now selling more petroleum products than it is buying for the first time in more than six decades, why is most of the country paying around $4 a gallon for gas? And if 30% of U.S. oil is drilled from federally owned lands and territories (read: areas owned by us, the taxpayers) why are we not being paid competitive rates for them by the oil companies?
With the Senate recently voting down a measure to eliminate billions of subsidies for Big Oil, for those not looking to attack either Republicans or Democrats, the 1% or the 99% – just those operating on common sense – it should raise some questions.
Between 2007 and 2010, more than 70% of the increase in U.S. oil drilling took place on federal territories, representing 3.5 million barrels a day, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Since then, oil drilling in the U.S. has climbed higher, topping 6 million barrels a day this spring for the first time since 1999.
The appeal of drilling in the U.S. has grown in recent years, as oil companies develop new technologies to capture energy resources locked in North America that were previously seen as out of reach. Big Oil also has grown wary of the legal and financial uncertainties that often plague their drilling activities in more exotic and restive regions, such as Venezuela and Nigeria, North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
Bottom line: drillers see America as the promised land compared with the dreary alternatives, because the U.S. is by far a safer and stabler place to do business.
Oil Still Fetches 1987 Rates
Yet Americans might be shocked to learn how much the oil companies are actually paying for the privilege to drill on taxpayer-owned territories. As of this writing, the starting bid for leases on parcels of land that allow an oil company to drill for 10 years is $2 an acre. Yes, the prices can get up into the thousands during the bidding process, but more often the land is sold for next to nothing.
And it’s been that way since 1987.
It is as though oil hasn’t budged from $20, the price per barrel the same year Bon Jovi released “Slippery When Wet” (no pun intended regarding the use of ‘slippery,’ however apropos.)Continue Reading