By Jay Clemons
The Biden administration announced Friday it would resume leasing sales for oil and gas drilling on federal land, while also sharply reducing the acreage available for leases, and charging higher royalties on the oil and gas produced.
The Interior Department said roughly 144,000 acres would soon be available through oil/gas lease sales, an apparent 80% reduction from the land that had been under previous evaluation for leasing.
In a series of Friday tweets, department Secretary Deb Haaland wrote:
“How we manage our public lands and waters says everything about what we value as a nation.
“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands. Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations,” she added.
The American Exploration and Production Council, which represents independent producers, in a statement said the Biden administration should do more.
“While today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, to really unleash American energy the Biden administration should continue to hold ongoing lease sales pursuant to the Mineral Leasing Act, issue permits more expeditiously and provide consistent regulatory certainty,” said Anne Bradbury, the group’s chief executive.
Friday’s announcement comes as the Biden administration feels external pressure to address high gas prices in the United States, with the national average now exceeding $4 per gallon.
When previously asked about surging fuel costs, or the country’s 40-year-highs with inflation, the Biden camp’s go-to responses typically involved the uncertainty of the Russia-Ukraine war, namely the “Putin Price Hike,” or the ongoing difficulty of running the world’s No. 1 economy during a pandemic.
Allowing for more oil and gas drilling on federal lands might quickly alleviate the pinch of rising energy costs — even if it runs contrary to President Joe Biden’s campaign platform from 2020, when he was a mere presidential hopeful amid a large cluster of Democratic candidates.
Back then, candidate Biden wanted to halt oil and gas drillings on federal lands as a means of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, which potentially contribute to global warming.
And in January 2021, his first week in office, Biden suspended all drilling on new oil and gas leases.
A federal district court judge from Louisiana, however, placed that moratorium on hold last June, after 13 states with significant oil and gas drilling resources sued to block it — arguing that Congress requires the “development of abundant energy resources on public lands,” according to the WSJ.
The Sierra Club, a powerful environmental organization with chapters in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., said Friday’s announcement would be “violating Biden’s campaign promise to end new oil and gas leasing and locking in new extraction that thwarts his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Also, “despite its pause on new oil and gas leasing and drilling on publicly owned lands and waters, the Biden administration approved more drilling permits in 2021 than President Trump did in the first year of his presidency, according to federal data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity.”
The New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, which pledge to “protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West,” had even more biting criticism of the Biden administration’s drilling directive.
The group tweeted, “This is pure climate denial. While the Biden administration talks a good talk on #climateaction, the reality is they are in bed with the oil and gas industry. Rest assured, with the #climatecrisis raging, we can and will fight back. We can’t afford not to.”