Until 1920, the Mining Law of 1872 controlled the mining of all minerals in the United States, excluding coal. Under the 1872 law, prospectors needed to visibly discover a mineral before they could receive the rights to a claim of the land. However, petroleum products rarely exhibited exposure at the ground surface, forcing a prospector to drill without any claim to a land – a risky endeavor. Fear of expenditure without guarantees reduced the amount of petroleum discovered, and with mounting concern of an oil shortage after World War I, the US government passed the Mineral Leasing Act in 1920 to little debate.
Under the Act, the Bureau of Land Management leased oil, natural gas, and coal, among other minerals found on public domain lands. The Act limited the amount of acres prospectors had a right to lease, and once a lease was established, operations were continually monitored by the government. The Act also gave pipelines the right-of-way through federal lands to accommodate a more effective transport of oil, natural gas, synthetic liquid, or gaseous fuels. Congress removed some federal lands like the National Park System, Indian reservations, and Outer Continental Shelves from the list of lands available for leasing.