Biden set to ban new oil and gas leases on federal lands after Trump sell-off

Move follows a 60-day suspension of new drilling permits for US lands and waters announced last week

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent
Tuesday 26 January 2021 18:07
Senator Chuck Schumer wants Biden to declare a climate emergency
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Joe Biden has earmarked Wednesday as “climate day” at the White House to announce a slew of execution actions.

The primary focus will be the president’s order to federal agencies asking them to determine the parameters of the oil and gas leasing ban on federal lands.

President Biden will also order the conservation of “30 by 30” – to protect nearly a third of all federal land and water by the end of the decade. He will create a task force and issue a memo making climate change a national security priority, a source told The New York Times

New environmental justice roles will be announced, along with a position to help displaced coal workers.

Banning new drilling leases on federal lands was one of President Biden’s campaign promises, a reversal of former President Donald Trump’s policy. Mr Biden also pledged to end the leasing of publicly-owned energy reserves as part of his climate agenda.

The move follows a 60-day suspension of new drilling permits for US lands and waters announced last week. 

The moratorium is intended to allow time for officials to review the impact of oil and gas drilling on the environment and climate. 

On his first day in office, President Biden signed a host of executive orders including to rejoin the Paris Agreement, cancel the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and tell agencies to immediately review dozens of Trump-era rules on science, the environment and public health.

Environmental groups hailed the expected oil and gas drilling moratorium as the kind of bold, urgent action needed to slow climate change.

President Biden signing an executive order on Monday, watching by VP Harris. A slew of climate orders are expected on Wednesday

“The fossil fuel industry has inflicted tremendous damage on the planet. The administration’s review, if done correctly, will show that filthy fracking and drilling must end for good, everywhere,'' said Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has pushed for the drilling pause.

Oil industry groups slammed the move, saying Biden had already eliminated thousands of oil and gas jobs by killing the Keystone XL oil pipeline on his first day in office.

"This is just the start. It will get worse,'' said Brook Simmons, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma. "Meanwhile, the laws of physics, chemistry and supply and demand remain in effect. Oil and natural gas prices are going up, and so will home heating bills, consumer prices and fuel costs.''

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas drillers in Western states, said the expected executive order is intended to delay drilling on federal lands to the point where it is no longer viable.

"The environmental left is leading the agenda at the White House when it comes to energy and environment issues,'' she said, noting that the moratorium would be felt most acutely in Western states such as Utah, Wyoming and Alaska, where Mr Biden lost to Mr Trump.

Under Mr Trump, federal agencies prioritised energy development and eased environmental rules to speed up drilling permits as part of the Republican’s goal to boost fossil fuel production. The former president consistently downplayed the dangers of climate change, which Mr Biden has made a top priority.

A 60-day suspension order at the Interior Department did not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning activity would not come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated. The moratorium also is unlikely to affect existing leases. Its effect could be further blunted by companies that stockpiled enough drilling permits in Trump’s final months to allow them to keep pumping oil and gas for years.

The pause in drilling is limited to federal lands and does not affect drilling on private lands, which is largely regulated by states.

Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of annual US production. Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons (500 million metric tons) of greenhouse gases annually, the US Geological Survey said in a 2018 study.

Under Mr Trump, Interior officials approved almost 1,400 permits on federal lands, primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico, over a three-month period that included the election, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. Those permits, which remain valid, will allow companies to continue drilling for years, potentially undercutting Mr Biden’s climate agenda.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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