For months, fossil fuel industry-allied Republicans have been up in arms about the Biden administration’s pause — which they’ve falsely dubbed a “ban” — on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.
President Joe Biden’s “illegal ban has hurt workers and deprived Wyoming and other states of a principal source of revenue that they use for public education,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declared in a June tweet.
In reality, oil and gas production in Wyoming and across the West is recovering after the major hit it took during the coronavirus pandemic. Permits to drill for oil and gas on federal lands have increased under Biden’s watch and, according to an Associated Press review, are on pace to reach their highest level since the George W. Bush administration.
Over Biden’s first five months in office, the number of rotary rigs drilling for oil and gas both on land and offshore jumped from 374 to 464, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, and the number of active wells also climbed, from 835 in January to 950 in May.
In Utah, drilling activity rivals the busiest days of the Trump administration, which boasted of achieving “energy dominance,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported last week. In Barrasso’s home state of Wyoming, the number of operating drill rigs has tripled since Biden implemented a leasing pause, WyoFile reported Wednesday— activity that the independent news outlet aptly noted “erodes fearful statements exclaimed by the energy industry, its supporters and communities reliant on extraction.”
Biden announced the “pause” in January, shortly after taking office, pending the outcome of a review of the federal oil and gas leasing program. A federal judge struck down that pause in June and ordered the administration to resume leasing. The administration has said it is complying with the judge’s order and will soon release a preliminary report detailing the findings of its program review.
But even the temporary pause had a “minimal” impact on Western economies, according to a new analysis from the Conservation Economics Institute, an Idaho-based think tank. The report found that the oil and gas industry has stockpiled enough federal leases in the five largest oil-producing states — New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Montana – to sustain drilling for decades, and that federal extraction accounts for just 6% of domestic oil production and 8% of natural gas.
“Polluters cried economic duress when the Administration set about reforming a broken system, and this shows just how misleading those claims are,” Josh Axelrod, a senior advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the report, said in a statement. “The pause on leasing federal lands is not an economic threat — industry is already sitting on a stockpile of leases that could yield drilling for well over half a century.”
Permits to drill for oil and gas on federal lands have increased under Biden’s watch and, according to an Associated Press review, are on pace to reach their highest level since the George W. Bush administration.
None of this, of course, has kept Republicans from continuing to parrot the talking points of an industry that’s helped finance their campaigns and get them elected to office.
Biden’s leasing moratorium is “stifling Wyoming and America’s own domestic production of oil and gas” and “empowering OPEC,” the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) wrote in a post to Twitter this week after Democrats voted down her amendment to Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The amendment sought to “protect American energy independence.”
One Biden administration action that likely will negatively impact Wyoming, however, is the Interior Department’s decision to reduce royalty rates for one of America’s largest coal companies. In May, the Bureau of Land Management quietly approved Arch Resource’s request for royalty relief at two of its coal mines, West Elk in Colorado and Coal Creek in Wyoming. Royalties are fees that drilling and mining companies pay to extract fossil fuels from federal lands, and the money is split between the federal government and states.
A lower royalty rate at Coal Creek will mean less money in Wyoming’s coffers.
Biden asked OPEC this week to boost oil production in an attempt to halt rising domestic gas prices — a move that outraged progressives and conservatives alike. The request came just two days after a United Nations report reaffirmed the urgent threat of global climate change.
Rather than pressuring OPEC, “Biden needs to focus on ending fossil fuel subsidies and stopping oil and gas expansion at home,” Collin Rees, a senior campaigner at the climate advocacy group Oil Change International, told HuffPost in an email.
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