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New PC Analysis: Trump-era Drilling Boom Continues Under Biden

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden administration is approving more onshore oil and gas drilling permits per month than the Trump administration did in the first three years of his presidency, a new Public Citizen analysis of federal data shows.

The analysis highlights the gap between the on-the-ground realities of federal oil and gas policies and President Joe Biden’s recent call to combat climate change at the international climate summit in Scotland.

“When it comes to climate change policy, President Biden is saying the right things. But we need more than just promises,” said Alan Zibel, the study’s author and a Public Citizen researcher. “The reality is that in the battle between the oil industry and Biden, the industry is winning. Despite Biden’s campaign commitments to stop drilling on public lands and waters, the industry still has the upper hand. Without aggressive government action, the fossil fuel industry will continue creating enormous amounts of climate-destroying pollution exploiting lands owned by the public.”

While the oil industry has attempted to link high gasoline prices to Biden administration public lands policies, a close look at federal data shows that the Biden administration has been unable to make a major dent in the Trump administration’s oil binge.

The analysis shows that the federal Bureau of Land Management, which leases public lands to oil and gas drilling companies, has approved an average of about 333 drilling permits per month from February 2021 through Nov., down by more than 25% from 452 per month in 2020, but still more than 35% higher than when former President Donald Trump took office in 2017. In the second half of 2021, the analysis shows that permit approvals under Biden have started to trend downward – a positive sign.

These numbers show Biden has a long way to go to fulfill his campaign promise of “no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore.”

At the start of Biden’s term, after the administration placed a temporary pause on new leasing but allowed new permits on existing leases, Western oil drillers and oil-producing states sued, arguing that the administration violated a federal law requiring quarterly lease sales. In June, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana ruled against the administration’s pause. This month, the Interior Department auctioned off 1.7 million acres of Gulf of Mexico oil leases, and the Biden administration is preparing to auction off onshore leases in western states next spring.

On the plus side, the Build Back Better legislation moving through Congress contains important reforms that raise revenue for taxpayers, such as requiring competitive bidding for leases of public lands and raising federal royalty rates that have long provided artificially low costs to the industry. The Biden administration endorsed those changes recently in a long-overdue report. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry is fighting to gut some of the reforms in the Democrats’ reconciliation package that are recommended in the report, such as increasing royalty rates on leases for the first time in 100 years.

“It’s time to end lavish sweetheart deals for the oil industry and enact reforms to shrink oil’s power over our politicians,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The Biden administration and Congress must force dirty energy companies to clean up their own mess and to pay higher royalties for the privilege of extracting resources from public lands.”