“For too long, federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the needs of the extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs tribal nations and additionally other uses of our shared public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “Today we are beginning to reset how and what we view as the use the highest and best of American resources for the benefit of all present and future generations.”
The new lease sales mark the second major step the Biden administration has taken to open public lands and waters to drilling. Late last year, the Interior Department offered up to 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling leases, the largest sale since 2017. The administration was legally obligated to hold that lease sale after Republican attorneys general in 13 states successfully overturned a stay on sales Mr. Biden had tried to impose. Environmental activists have criticized the administration, saying the lease sales represent a rollback of Mr. Biden’s already stalled climate change agenda.
“The Biden administration’s assertion that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said Randi Spivak, director of public lands at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and mega-droughts and accepting weather disasters as business as usual.”
But it’s part of a recent series of moves Mr Biden has taken as he tries to ease voter anxiety over rising gas prices. This month, he announced the largest-ever release of oil from the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reached an agreement to increase natural gas exports to Europe and called on Congress to enact legislation to compel oil companies to drill on their concessions.
These measures elicited a lukewarm reaction from the oil industry.
“It’s a mixed and strangely inconsistent message,” said Jeff Eshelman, chief operating officer of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry group. “This administration has demanded more oil from foreign countries, accuses US energy producers of price gouging and sitting on leases. Now, in a belated holiday announcement, under pressure he announces a lease sale with significant royalty increases that will add uncertainty to drilling plans for years to come.