Biden Administration Expands Fossil Fuel Development On Public Lands

Wildfires rage around the globe in places like Greece and Canada while record-high temperatures heat the planet. Meanwhile, the Biden administration (BLM) continues expanding fossil fuel development on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management held oil and gas lease sales on federal lands from May through July. The Biden administration outpaces the Trump administration in lease sales.

The Biden administration auctioned over 140,000 acres of public land in May and June. The BLM held a sale of over 100,000 acres in Wyoming at the end of July, an area over twice the size of Washington, D.C. On June 27, the federal agency sold 5,671.72 for $15,027,909 in North Dakota. On May 24, the BLM sold 8,596.25 for $78,844,369 in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

“The Biden Administration should be swiftly ending the era of fossil fuels, not expanding new drilling and dirty infrastructure,” said Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager for Friends of the Earth. “Biden must immediately cancel these lease sales and reverse our rapid descent into irreparable climate catastrophe.”

New Public Lands Leasing Rule

The Biden administration recently released a new public lands leasing rule. The new rule steers oil and gas development from critical wildlife habitats or cultural sites to public lands with existing infrastructure or high production potential. However, the new rule does not mention climate change.

“The Biden administration is taking some much-needed action by advancing bonding and royalties reform, which will create financial accountability for the oil and gas industry profiting off the destruction of public lands,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous. “We strongly urge the administration to implement robust climate rules that will preserve lands and waters, protect nature and habitats, and safeguard our communities.”

Biden’s Climate Hypocrisy

The lease sales contradict Biden’s goals of a zero carbon emissions power sector by 2035 and a net zero emissions economy by 2050. The drilling permits sold by the Biden administration will result in over 800 million tons of estimated equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, equal to the annual climate pollution from 217 coal-fired power plants.

Greenhouse gas emissions from current fossil fuel projects will push warming past the Paris target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Keeping 40 percent of developed fossil fuel fields in the ground by ending new investment in fossil fuel fields and phasing out current development will prevent the world from overshooting the Paris Agreement.

The U.S. federal government is one of the world’s largest energy asset managers, overseeing over 2.4 billion acres of subsurface mineral rights, including coal, crude oil, and natural gas. In 2018, U.S. public lands produced 39 percent of the nation’s total coal (282 metric tons), 21 percent of its oil (826 million barrels), and 14 percent of its natural gas (4.3 trillion cubic feet.

Fossil fuel development on public lands contributes significantly to the nation’s emissions, responsible for the equivalent of a quarter of the U.S. total since 2005. Meeting U.S. climate commitments of 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 requires minimal reductions of the emissions from fossil fuel extraction on public lands by the same year.

It is time for President Biden to uphold his climate commitments by stopping lease sales on public lands and phasing out current production. Doing anything less proves he is in the back pocket of fossil fuel companies.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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