One of President Joe Biden’s boldest moves was to ban new oil and natural gas leasing on public land and water. Now, just after President Biden told world leaders that his administration is committed to slowing climate change with “action, and not words,” his Interior Department oversaw one of the largest oil and gas lease sales in American history. The Biden administration will be opening more than 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to auction for drilling. Energy companies, led by Exxon Mobil, placed bids on 1.7 million acres; it’s unclear how much of that will later be developed. The Trump administration, which first proposed the Gulf of Mexico sale in 2017, estimated it would generate 21 million to 1.12 billion barrels of oil and from 55 billion to 4.42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Oil and gas companies stocked up on leases during President Donald Trump’s term but the sites being currently examined were not touched. More than half of the land that was leased during that time by energy companies is currently nonproducing, an analysis found. This new gas and oil lease is different because production levels are at the highest ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf is one of the best basins in terms of oil and gas discovery prospects.
Biden Followers Outraged Over New Leasing
Environmentalists and other Leftist groups are outraged over the new gas and oil lease auction. “This is an administration that campaigned on dealing with climate change,” said Drew Caputo, an attorney at Earthjustice, which sued to stop the sale. “That’s why this lease sale is so disappointing, because it is the most significant action that the administration will have taken on oil and gas development and it goes in the wrong direction.” Environmental organizations argue there’s more that Biden could have done to stop the sale in an effort to make America “green.” Brettny Hardy, an attorney with the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice leading a lawsuit against the Interior Department, argued the Biden administration could have filed a more aggressive appeal in court, declined to hold the sale this week or withdrawn some of the areas in the Gulf from leasing.”The sale is going to lock in [oil and gas] production for years to come,” Hardy told CNN. “By that time, we need to be moving away from fossil fuels in order to survive. This lease sale is a really critical juncture and is sending us in the exact opposite direction.”
Many people on the left and environmentalists believe the Justice Department also could have argued that the environmental risks involved with new gas and oil leases conflict with the National Environmental Protection Act. “It simply does not make sense to put oil company profits over the future of an inhabitable planet,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “The Biden administration must take control of the federal leasing program with its existing authority to fulfill their promises to current and future communities across America. We cannot afford this risky, damaging, and inconsistent approach to managing America’s public lands and ocean.” Though many on the left wish to argue the environment sees the biggest impact if oil and gas leasing continues, the economy could be affected in worse ways if it doesn’t. An analysis published in August by the Conservation Economics Institute, commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation-based nonprofits, found that a pause in onshore oil and gas leasing would have “negligible” economic impacts in the short term.
Biden Administration Resumes Gas and Oil Lease Sales
More than a dozen Republican states filed a lawsuit challenging the pause, saying it would cause undue harm to the energy industry and state economies that are reliant on fossil fuel production. Republican lawmakers and fossil fuel companies have been quick to point a finger at the Biden administration’s climate policies as the cause of energy prices surging, and claim lease sales like the one in the Gulf can alleviate prices. Another big issue with pausing leasing on gas and oil is the laws in place which are designed to prevent just that from happening. “The law is pretty clear,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for offshore energy companies. “The law states the Interior Department must have a leasing program in place and it must maintain that leasing program, so it’s hard for the Interior Department to just cancel lease sales without a rational basis.” Earlier this summer, a federal judge in Louisiana sided with those points, issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction. Judge Doughty was nominated in 2017 to the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana by former President Donald Trump. “Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” Judge Terry Doughty wrote in his ruling.
The Biden administration is now forced to open drilling once again, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “We’re required to comply with the injunction; it’s a legal case and legal process,” Psaki told reporters Monday. “But it’s important for advocates and other people out there to understand that it’s not aligned with our view, the President’s policies or the executive order that he signed.” The Biden administration is appealing the injunction but agreed to resume Gas and Oil Lease sales in the meantime. “They can be held in contempt if they don’t comply with the court order and so I think they’re looking at the litigation risk and making a judgment call,” said Hilary Tompkins, an environmental attorney at Hogan Lovells, who served as solicitor of the Interior Department during the Obama administration. Additional gas and oil lease sales are scheduled in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and other Western states early next year. Do you think we should be creating new oil and gas leasing in the gulf of Mexico? Do you believe the economic impacts of not drilling outweigh the environmental impacts we face if we do?
Written by: Erinn Malloy