New GAO Report Shows Oil and Gas Industry Sitting on Almost 10,000 Unused Drilling Permits, Undermining Push for New Favors From Trump

Washington, D.C. – A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report requested by Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) finds that oil and gas companies were sitting on 9,950 unused permits to drill as of the end of fiscal year 2019. The report finds that the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” push to grant the industry more permits – even those that drilling corporations have no intention of using in the near future – has paralyzed the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) ability to carry out other parts of its mission.

President Trump tweeted cryptically earlier this week that he intends to offer special help to the oil and gas industry, but so far details have been lacking. Grijalva underscored that today’s findings call into question the industry’s demands for assistance, since the low price of oil is largely the result of years of overproduction and constant drilling regardless of environmental concerns or national economic circumstances.

Lowenthal is chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. The report is available at https://bit.ly/2VqBJHo, and a one-page overview of the report’s major findings is available at https://bit.ly/3arrtD6.

“Forcing federal employees to drop what they’re doing to grant more oil and gas drilling permits that won’t even be used is a perfect example of everything wrong with this administration,” Grijalva said. “This is government by corporation, pure and simple. The Trump administration has turned federal agencies into a rubber stamp machine for even the most ridiculous industry demands, and our economy and our environment will be paying the price long after this president leaves office.”

“Public lands belong to all Americans and the Department of the Interior and BLM are entrusted with the responsibility to manage them properly,” Lowenthal said. “The Department and this Administration is failing in their responsibilities. Unlike the Obama Administration, they do not provide the public with regular updates on the number of unused permits. Further, as the GAO report highlights, it has prioritized oil and gas permitting over public health, worker safety, and the environment.”

Among other findings, today’s report reveals that the constant push for more permit approvals has reduced BLM’s ability to conduct wellhead inspections, which were down 14 percent in 2019 compared to 2016. The number of violations and amount of fines issued in 2017 and 2018 were down 43 percent and 92 percent, respectively, from the annual average in the 2011-2016 period.

Press Contact

Media Contacts: Adam Sarvana (Grijalva)

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626 mobile


Keith Higginbotham (Lowenthal)

(202) 740-2517 or Keith.Higginbotham@mail.house.gov