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President Biden announced federal leases to resume on oil and gas. Now everyone’s mad

Fossil fuel critics, industry angry over decision

SHARE President Biden announced federal leases to resume on oil and gas. Now everyone’s mad
The price of diesel fuel is $5.24 per gallon at a Sinclair in Salt Lake City.

The price of diesel fuel is $5.24 per gallon at a Sinclair in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 11, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Fossil fuel critics say President Joe Biden is abandoning his campaign promise to end extraction of fossil fuels.

An alliance representing small oil and gas producers in Utah and other western states say he is playing “political football” in a hollow gesture under mounting pressure amid staggering energy costs.

Biden’s late Friday announcement that he will resume oil and gas leasing on federal public lands — in which Utah has a critical interest — did very little to please anyone on either side.

“The Biden administration fiddles while Rome burns,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director at Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “The most destructive fire in Colorado history consumed over a thousand homes last December. When your house is on fire, you act immediately. Climate disasters hit us harder each day and we’re out of time. The Biden administration must address the climate crisis now, and a vital step is stopping oil and gas leasing on public lands immediately. There is no other option.” 

Other groups chimed in excoriating the president.

“This is pure climate denial,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “While the Biden administration talks a good talk on climate action, the reality is, they’re in bed with the oil and gas industry. Rest assured, with the climate crisis raging, we can and will fight back. We can’t afford not to.”

Added the Western Environmental Law Center: “We have heard a lot of rhetoric from President Biden and his administration about the need to take action on climate,” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director. “But not only is the administration not doing everything it could — it is not really doing anything. Climate action was a pillar of President Biden’s campaign, and his promises on this existential issue were a major reason the public elected him. Achieving results on climate is not a matter of domestic politics. It’s life and death.”

Here is what is at the heart of the late Friday announcement.

The Interior Department said it would resume lease/sales of oil and gas both onshore and offshore. It appeared to be a peace offering to the industry and to the American public fed up with record high fuel prices, not only impacting the price at the pump but travel and home energy costs.

The “relief” granted comes after the president put the brakes on any new leases on his first day in office, despite a federal law on the books that says quarterly lease/sales must be offered.

Utah, other states and energy producers sued, while climate change groups hailed the decision.

Fast forward 15 months, plow through a global energy crisis in part stoked by the Russian invasion and ensuing war in Ukraine and a U.S. economy reeling from the most severe inflation in four decades.

Biden’s announcement may appear to be an attempt to put a tourniquet on the hemorrhaging energy prices, but the Western Energy Alliance — representing those independent producers in the West — says it is an introduction of policies to further depress domestic natural gas and oil production.

The reduction in available public land for leasing is 80% and the royalty rate has gone up 50%, according to the group.

“While we’re glad to see BLM is finally going to announce a sale, the extreme reduction of acreage by 80%, after a year and a quarter without a single sale, is unwarranted and does nothing to show that the administration takes high energy prices seriously,” said Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance’s president.

“The sales being considered were the ones that had already been fully analyzed at the end of the Trump administration and were ready to go before the Biden administration decided to redo the analysis. Career employees at BLM, not political appointees, had done that analysis and determined it was protective. This administration has decided to make leasing and production a political football, and Americans are paying the price at the pump.”

She added that the increase in royalty rates will only drive production costs higher for companies and isn’t an incentive to produce.