“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of tribal nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations.”
The new lease sales mark the second major step the Biden administration has taken to open up public lands and waters for 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 from 13 states successfully overturned a suspension on sales that Mr. Biden had tried to impose. Environmental activists criticized the administration, saying the lease sales represented backsliding on Mr. Biden’s already-stalled climate change agenda.
“The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said Randi Spivak, director of the public lands for Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.”
But it comes as part of a recent series of steps that Mr. Biden has taken as he attempts to assuage voter anxiety over rising gasoline prices. This month, he announced the largest ever release of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reached a deal to increase natural gas exports to Europe, and called on Congress to enact legislation to compel oil companies to drill on their leases.
Those moves drew a tepid reaction from the oil industry.
“It’s a mixed message and strangely incoherent,” said Jeff Eshelman, the chief operating officer of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry group. “This administration has begged for more oil from foreign nations, blames American energy producers for price gouging and sitting on leases. Now, on a late holiday announcement, under pressure, it announces a lease sale with major royalty increases that will add uncertainty to drilling plans for years.”