Biden Administration to Resume Oil and Gas Drilling on Federal Lands

Pump jacks at the South Belridge Oil Field in California
Pump jacks at the South Belridge Oil Field in unincorporated Kern County, California, on Feb. 26, 2022. ROBYN BECK / AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced its plans to resume oil and gas drilling on federal lands, which would violate one of President Joe Biden’s big campaign promises. The Interior Department said in a press release that it planned to auction off drilling leases across 225 square miles in nine states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Alabama, Nevada, North Dakota and Oklahoma, reported the Associated Press. About 30 percent less land is being offered than officials had nominated for sale in November, and 80 percent less than the oil and gas industry had initially proposed.

As gas prices have increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden has been under pressure to expand oil production in the U.S., while also facing calls from fellow Democrats to take action to reduce fossil fuel emissions in the country.

The government plans to charge greatly increased royalty rates for companies to drill and conduct an assessment of the climate impact of developing the land, reported Reuters. The new royalty rate will be 18.75 percent, up from 12.5 percent. It is the first time royalty rates have been increased since the 1920s, said the Associated Press.

“How we manage our public lands and waters says everything about what we value as a nation,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, as Reuters reported.

The Department of the Interior press release said that the Bureau of Land Management will issue its sale notices for upcoming lease sales, as well as the final environmental assessments, today.

The Interior Department said that many recommendations from its November 2021 Report on the Federal Oil and Gas Leasing Program will be incorporated into the lease sales, including community input and consultation with Tribes.

“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,” Haaland said, as reported by The New York Times. “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.”

The announcement drew a confused response from the oil industry.

“It’s a mixed message and strangely incoherent,” said CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America Jeff Eshelman, as the New York Times reported. “This administration has begged for more oil from foreign nations, blames American energy producers for price gouging and sitting on leases. Now… under pressure, it announces a lease sale with major royalty increases that will add uncertainty to drilling plans for years.”

The lease sales drew criticism from environmental groups, who denounced them as heedlessly dismissive of the climate crisis.

“The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity Randi Spivak, as reported by Reuters. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts, and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.”

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