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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 16, 2021

Joe Biden takes first step toward ban on new fracking on federal land

President Joe Biden campaigned on a calibrated fracking policy. He said he would bar any new leases on federal land but, in most other ways, allow the widespread method of oil and gas extraction to continue.

"I do not propose banning fracking," Biden said Oct. 15, 2020, at an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia. "I think you have to make sure that fracking is, in fact, not emitting methane or polluting the well or dealing with what can be small earthquakes in how they're drilling. So, it has to be managed very, very well."

In a March 15, 2020, debate, Biden seemed to say he would stop all new fracking. But he immediately emphasized that his plan applied only to federal lands and only to new leases. Many Republicans attacked Biden for wanting to go beyond that policy, and those claims ended up on the false side of the Truth-O-Meter.

One week after taking office, Biden signed an executive order that put all new leasing on hold "pending completion of a comprehensive review" by the Interior Department. It applied to both land and offshore leases.

The pushback was immediate.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the move would cost thousands of people their jobs and hurt "Wyoming's economy and the economies of other states like New Mexico, North Dakota and Louisiana."

The immediate effect of the policy defies easy prediction. 

Oil and gas drawn from federal property represents a lesser share of total U.S. production. In 2019, oil from federal land amounted to about 22% of the total, and natural gas accounted for about 11%.

Those existing leases remain unaffected by Biden's order. There are over 7,000 approved drilling permits that oil and gas companies have yet to use. 

Right now, the market is driving fracking activity far more than Biden's policy, said Texas A&M University economist Eric Lewis.

"This is going to have a short-term impact on leasing, and basically zero impact on the drilling," Lewis said, "because the oil prices are too low."

The largest drillers on federal land and offshore zones have said they have secured enough drilling rights to last several years. Smaller operators though — those that haven't stockpiled leases — would be more vulnerable.

The pause on leasing is open-ended. In the long run, Biden has said he wants to move the country away from fossil fuels and replace oil and gas jobs with work in industries that don't put greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It is possible that opponents of the policy could reverse it in court or through legislation. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.


Our Sources

ABC News, Philadelphia town hall with Joe Biden, Oct. 15, 2020

White House, Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, Jan. 27, 2021

U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Public land statistics 2019, June 2020

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum and other liquids, accessed Feb. 15, 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Natural gas, accessed Feb. 15, 2021

U.S. Interior Department, Natural Resources Revenue Data - oil, Feb. 15, 2021

U.S. Interior Department, Natural Resources Revenue Data - natural gas, Feb. 15, 2021

Congressional Research Service, U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Nonfederal Areas,Oct. 23, 2018

U.S. Interior Department, FACT SHEET: President Biden to Take Action to Uphold Commitment to Restore Balance on Public Lands and Waters, Invest in Clean Energy Future, Feb. 11, 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Horizontally drilled wells dominate U.S. tight formation production, June 6, 2019

American Petroleum Institute, Limiting Domestic Energy Production Undermines Environmental Progress, Jan. 27, 2021

Sen. John Barrasso, Barrasso Blasts Biden Executive Order to Ban New Oil & Gas Leasing on Federal Lands, Jan. 27, 2021

Reuters, Big U.S. oil drillers have federal permits to mute effect of any Biden ban, Jan. 21, 2021

CNN, Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, March 15, 2020

Inside Climate News, Biden's Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels, Jan.27, 2021

PolitiFact, No, Joe Biden doesn't want to ban fracking or kill the Pennsylvania jobs it supports, July 21, 2020

Interview, Eric Lewis, assistant professor, Texas A&M University, Jan. 28, 2021


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