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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg April 22, 2022

Joe Biden breaks promise to ban new fracking on federal lands

In his first week in office, President Joe Biden put a hold on new oil and gas leases on federal land pending a policy review by the Interior Department. This was the follow-through on a promise that emerged during the campaign.

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.

The moratorium in January 2021 made good, at least temporarily, on Biden's words. Six months later, in June 2021, a federal judge blocked Biden's order, saying lease sales should move forward.

The Interior Department complied and held a massive sale of 80 million acres offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, only to see another judge rescind that sale for failing to consider climate impacts. The sale remains tied up in court.

But onshore leasing has come. On April 15, 2022, the Interior Department announced its first onshore lease sale since Biden's moratorium. In June, the government will offer about 144,000 acres for drilling. Nearly all of that — 132,000 acres — is in Wyoming, with the remainder in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada and Oklahoma.

As a practical matter, any wells that are drilled are likely to use fracking.

"For the most part, you can't have an economically viable well without using fracking technology," said Elizabeth Craddock, a Washington attorney who represents many oil and gas clients. "More than 75% of new production has fracking involved."

So, the new leases will produce new fracking.

The Interior Department applied new standards in picking the sites for its auction. It aimed to cluster new wells close to existing drilling to reduce disruption on new lands and make full use of existing roads and other infrastructure. It estimated the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from the new wells. 

It also increased the royalty rate from 12.5% to 18.75%.

The scale of the offering is smaller than similar sales from before Biden took office. In December 2020, the government listed 275,000 acres in Wyoming. The June sale lists 130,000 acres. The December 2020 sale in Colorado included 47,000 acres. The upcoming one in June has about 5,000 acres.

The Interior Department said in a press release that it had trimmed the number of acres requested by the industry by 80%.

Laura Zachary, a consulting analyst who has worked with environmental groups, warned of the long term impact of this sale on greenhouse gas emissions.

"Once these leases are sold, it is very difficult to take back control over them or to change the terms of existing leases," Zachary said." If sold and developed, these leases will likely continue to produce oil and gas past 2050." 

Advocates of a faster shift away from fossil fuels have noted that even before the announced lease sale, the Biden administration had already green-lighted new fracking. In January, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report that found the Interior Department had approved 3,557 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first year. That was about 1,000 more permits than during the first year of the Trump administration.

We reached out to the White House to ask about Biden's promise and did not hear back.

We rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

U.S. Interior Department, Leasing reform, accessed April 20, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Oil and gas statistics, accessed April 21, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado sale, April 18, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Nevada sale, April 18, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Montana/Dakotas, April 18, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, New Mexico, April 18, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Utah, April 18, 2022

U. S. Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming, April 18, 2022

Center for Biological Diversity, New Data: Biden's First Year Drilling Permitting Stomps Trump's By 34%, Jan. 21, 2022

Western Environmental Law Center, Biden administration to restart oil, gas leasing on public lands, April 15, 2022

AP, Federal judge blocks Biden's pause on new oil, gas leases, June 16, 2021

New York Times, Court Revokes Oil and Gas Leases, Citing Climate Change, Jan. 27, 2022

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Oil and Gas - Gulf of Mexico, Feb. 24, 2021

Holland and Knight, Department of Interior Releases New Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Sale Notices, April 19, 2022

Timothy Considine, The Fiscal and Economic Impacts of Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Lease Moratorium and Drilling Ban Policies, Dec. 14, 2020

Interview, Elizabeth Craddock, government relations attorney, Holland and Knight, April 21, 2022

Email exchange, Laura Zachary, managing director, Apogee Economics and Policy, April 21, 2022

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg January 11, 2022

Court ruling, administration backtracking undercut fracking ban

Fracking revolutionized the oil and gas industry, creating a torrent of new supply that drove down the price of natural gas. The process, which injects water, sand and chemicals far beneath the surface to extract oil and gas, has threatened water supplies and been linked to earthquakes. Many Democratic voters, especially younger ones, oppose fracking, and President Joe Biden adopted a targeted approach that focused solely on fracking on federal lands

Soon after taking office, he announced that he would put all new oil and gas leasing on hold "pending completion of a comprehensive review" by the Interior Department. More than a dozen states sued to block the move. In June, a federal judge agreed, saying the states had "made a showing that there is a substantial likelihood that President Biden exceeded his powers."

The court placed a temporary injunction on Biden's leasing pause, pending a full court ruling. The White House press office said that effectively tied the administration's hands, and leasing had to continue.

In November, the Interior Department completed its review and recommended a rise in leasing rates for both onshore and offshore drilling. The goal would be to encourage leasing on more productive land and make the program a better deal for the government and taxpayers.

Right before the department issued its report, it leased 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas producers.

While some environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, gave the administration credit for improvements to the leasing program, they called the absence of a ban on new leasing notable.

"Opening new areas to oil and gas development amounts to ignoring what science tells us is necessary to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change," an NRDC policy team said in a Nov. 30, 2021, statement. "The agency should end new oil and gas leasing in federal waters and limit future onshore leasing to the greatest extent possible."

Some environmentalists say Biden might be able to do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions through stricter controls on methane releases, rather than a full leasing ban. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. 

But on the campaign, Biden said his ban would apply to new leases on federal land. That has not happened. There is an opportunity for the administration to revisit the issue, at least for offshore permits. A new leasing program is due for the 2023-2027 period, when strict limits could be applied.

For now, we rate this promise Stalled.

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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