Threats from Public Lands

See how oil and gas pollution on public lands affects you

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New Mexico

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North Dakota

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Public lands have served as a source for oil and gas development for decades, especially in the West, where most of the nation’s 640 million acres of publicly owned lands lie.

The maps of these six states—Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—show the real and near effects of oil and gas development on public lands on nearby communities. At least 74,000 people in these states are threatened by air pollution from oil and gas wells on public lands.

Why do public lands matter?

Right now, 96,000 active oil and gas wells on public lands—lands owned by the American people and managed by various federal agencies—provide 11 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply and 5 percent of its oil. But this vast energy development has raised concerns among the public and scientists about resulting harm to the air quality in surrounding communities.

What are the threats from oil and gas on public lands?

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a pollutant from oil and gas development that is —

  • A greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years, and a major contributor to climate change;
  • Detrimental to human health, and known to lead to increase asthma attacks in children;
  • Can make other respiratory issues—like lung disease and emphysema—worse.

How can we fix this?

Because of these issues, we need federal regulations to clean up our air. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency released regulations addressing methane pollution from new oil and gas wells, but more regulations are needed to clean up oil and gas operations on public lands.

That’s why this year the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management proposed an update to existing regulations, known as the methane or natural gas waste rule, that would reduce the release of natural gas into the atmosphere. By reducing natural gas waste, this rule— when it is finalized—will also reduce harmful methane pollution.

It’s important for this rule to be completed in order to protect local communities affected by the oil and gas wells on lands that belong to all Americans.