Department of the Interior

While the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) scope and presence spans across the country, its main offices are found in Washington DC. There, a grand building has been the hub of public land management since its construction was completed in 1936. Along with offices, the building houses a museum and an extensive collection of murals celebrating the various roles of the DOI.

Among these murals are two by Edgar Britton, celebrating the DOI’s role in the oil industry. These two paintings, collectively known as Work of the Petroleum Division of the Bureau of Mines were completed in 1939, in an era before the Bureau of Land Management, when the BLM’s responsibilities, along with those of the Department of Energy and Geological Survey were collectively managed under the Bureau of Mines. The east wall mural focuses on production and refining. Men survey land and lay a pipeline for crude oil as large oil rigs operate in the background. The east wall celebrates the many uses of petroleum in modern life. Cars, aircraft, and agricultural equipment surround a central oil refinery. These murals are a proud commemoration of the discoveries and capabilities enabled by man’s ingenuity and industry.

Work of the Petroleum Division of the Bureau of Mines Edgar Britton Buon Fresco, 1939
Work of the Petroleum Division of the Bureau of Mines
Edgar Britton
Buon Fresco, 1939

About the Department

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) oversees the maintenance and conservation of most public lands and resources. Due to the wide range of its responsibilities, the DOI is often referred to as the “Department of Everything Else.” This was particularly the case when the DOI was first established in March 3, 1849. Many preexisting departments quickly passed their less desirably tasks to the DOI such as the management of the DC sewer system. Yet, other bureaus found a much more proper seat in the DOI. The Indian Affairs Office was transferred from the Department of War and the General Land Office from the Treasury. As of 2004, the DOI managed about one fifth of the United States’ land mass—overseeing organizations such as the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Among these organizations is the Bureau of Land Management which oversees the uses of public land for a wide range of purposes including oil and gas drilling. The bureau was formed in 1946 by combining the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. The Bureau of Land Management oversees approximately one eighth of the land mass of the United States. While this land was originally described as “land nobody wanted,” after homesteaders had passed over these locations, there have been over 385,000 oil and gas leases filed for use on public lands.

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