Last week, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released a report (PDF) concluding that fossil fuels extracted from public lands account for 23.7% of the country's carbon dioxide emissions. These figures include the carbon dioxide released during the drilling and extraction of coal, as well as the carbon dioxide released during the treatment and combustion of oil, gas or coal from public lands.
In the United States, drilling and mining can take place on private land. Fossil fuel companies can also apply to the federal government for a lease for drilling and mining. Offshore oil drilling, a contentious issue among coastal states that are reluctant to see another Deepwater Horizon incident ruining their waterfront property, is considered drilling on federal land.
The Trump administration probably ignores the importance of the role that federal land leases play in the fight against climate change. Last week, the US federal government attempted to bury a report on the disastrous consequences of climate change on the country's economy and health.
The Obama administration had requested this USGS report recently released in January 2016. At the time, the federal government had been trying to limit fossil fuel extraction on federal lands from several ways. The Hill notes that the Obama administration has created a number of new national monuments to prevent drilling operations. The former president also put an end to new coal leases on federal lands and introduced new rules to limit methane emissions on federal lands.
In addition to measuring carbon dioxide emissions, the USGS report indicates that fossil fuel extraction on federal lands contributes 7.3% to the country's methane emissions and 1.5 % of nitrogen oxide emissions.
A weak point is that between 2005 and 2014, all federal public land emissions declined slightly. For co2this meant decreases of 6.1%; methane registered a decrease of 10.5% and nitrogen oxide of 20.3%. Emissions from the use of public land are closely related to fossil fuel industry trends, so the spillover from emissions could come from an uneconomic fossil fuel economy.
The USGS report also quantified the amount of carbon dioxide that federal lands sequester. In other words, plants and soil can store CO2and protecting federal lands means protecting ecosystems that contain a certain amount of CO2 in stock.
The USGS report notes that federally owned ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands and shrubs, sequestered an average of 195 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year between 2005 and 2005. 2014 ", offsetting around 15% of CO2 emissions resulting from the extraction of fossil fuels on federal lands and their final combustion. "
The difference between what is issued due to the use of federal lands and what is sequestrated from federal lands can help future federal governments make energy and leasing decisions. At the moment, public lands in the United States emit much more CO2 that they can not sequester, and the current administration's enthusiasm for renting public land should not change much.
List image by the North Dakota Department of Health