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The availability of gas and oil resources in the Intermountain Western United States has recently become the subject of increasing debate. Several studies have concluded that substantial energy resources are inaccessible because of legally restricted access to federal lands. The authors propose that comprehensive resource assessment focus not on land access restrictions but on determining what resources are recoverable considering (1) wellhead costs (accounting for costs specific to the region, such as the high abundance of nonconventional gas); (2) infrastructure costs, such as the need for constructing additional pipelines; and (3) potential environmental impacts of exploration and production: how much resource is on lands that are highly vulnerable to environmental disruption and how much is on lands where such activity could have a lower impact. The resource that satisfies these criteria represents the amount that is likely to actually be produced and is termed the "viable resource." A better estimate of the viable resource is necessary before policymakers can determine whether to change the status of federal lands available for exploration.

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