DOE - Fossil Energy Techline - Issued on:  June 6, 2001

Nation May Have Less Access To Natural Gas Than Thought

Study of Rocky Mountain Region Continues Implementation of National Energy Policy; Reviews Restrictions to Energy Exploration on Federal Lands

Greater Green River Basin Map
Washington, DC - Access to one of the nation's most promising natural gas-bearing regions in the Rocky Mountains may be much more restricted than previously thought, a U.S. Department of Energy study has concluded.

Working virtually on a tract-by-tract basis, analysts studied federal lands in the Greater Green River Basin of Wyoming and Colorado and found that nearly 68 percent of the area's technically recoverable natural gas resource - as much as 79 trillion cubic feet of natural gas - is either closed to development or under significant access restrictions.

In December 1999, the National Petroleum Council, an industry advisory group, put that figure at 40 percent and warned that restrictions could make it difficult for U.S. producers to meet future gas demands.

The council's study, however, made only general estimates of the natural gas likely to reside in restricted areas. The new study examines the Greater Green River Basin in much greater detail.

"We must take every step to meet future demands for energy in an environmentally responsible fashion," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "Determining the scope of current restrictions on our ability to provide that energy is an important first step towards implementing the President's National Energy Policy."

Virtually every energy projection shows demand for clean-burning natural gas growing rapidly, both as a fuel for the nation's homes and businesses and for an increasing number of electricity generating power plants. Energy Department projections forecast that by 2020 Americans will be consuming more than 50 percent more natural gas than they do today. Based on that information, the Bush Administration's National Energy Policy calls for a review of public land status and lease stipulations that may be impeding federal oil and gas exploration and development.

The Green River Basin study was conducted in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. It is part of a larger planned project to analyze natural gas resources under Federal lands in the Rocky Mountain region. The basin was chosen as the first to be studied because it contains the largest amount of estimated technically recoverable natural gas resources in the Rockies.

Made up of a complex series of geologic basins separated by uplifts and ridges, the Greater Green River Basin is located primarily in southwestern Wyoming with portions extending into Colorado and, to a lesser extent, into Utah.

The area examined in the study actually encompasses more than the Greater Green River Basin because it includes all land area overseen by the Bureau of Land Management that contained any part of the basin. Some of this land extends well beyond the basin. Almost 29 million acres of land, 16 million of which are owned by the Federal government, were analyzed.

Using computerized geographic information system (GIS) analysis, the analysis examined virtually every township tract in the study area, each a 6 x 6 mile square. Any condition limiting exploration and development was identified. Estimates of the recoverable natural gas were obtained mostly from the U.S. Geological Survey's 1995 national oil and gas assessment and, for certain unconventional formations, from the Energy Department's natural gas research program.

The study found that about 30 percent of the gas resources are completely off limits, with about one percent underlying lands such as national parks and wilderness areas that are closed by statute. The rest of the inaccessible areas have been closed by administrative actions.

An additional 38 percent of the Federal natural gas resource has some type of leasing stipulation that would restrict access although not prevent it completely. Most limit the time access is allowed. For example, much of the area is restricted for three to nine months to provide winter habitat for large game or to allow sage grouse or raptors to nest.

The remaining 32 percent is subject to standard lease terms, which still dictate that the lessee comply with a number of environmental requirements.

A product of the study will be publicly-available digitized maps and other data that will allow users to examine restrictions for each township individually. This electronic data will be especially useful for land management planning, leasing decisions, and permitting. The Energy Department contracted with Advanced Resources International of Arlington, VA, to carry out the study.

- End of Techline -

News Media contact:
Drew Malcomb, DOE Office of Public Affairs, 202-586-5806

Program contact:
William Hochheiser, DOE Office of Fossil Energy,