Biden Administration Plans to Sell Oil, Gas Leases Despite Climate Change Report

Despite a damaging report on fossil fuels released by the Interior Department last week, the Biden administration plans to sell oil and gas leases even after a campaign pledge to end new drilling on public land.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is leasing sales for oil and gas mining in states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico. The agency has scaled back leases in Wyoming and Montana due to potential impacts on vulnerable animal populations. Despite this, Wyoming still has roughly 280 square miles up for leasing.

However, the BLM said that there is not much they can do to prevent climate change impacts from burning the fuels.

"BLM has limited decision authority to meaningfully or measurably prevent the cumulative climate change impacts that would result from global emissions," the agency said in a statement.

The Interior Department cited in its report that the social cost of these leases is projected to range from $357 million to around $4 billion. These costs have caused ire to those questioning why the administration is moving forward with the leases. Harvard University economics professor James Stock is questioning the validity of the agency's belief that they cannot stop the leases.

"To say it's too hard, they can't do that — that's simply not true," says Stock. "All of those calculations have been done. This is very surprising to me and inconsistent with the Biden administration's climate goals."

The leases are expected to begin early next year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Natural Gas Flare
A flare burns natural gas at an oil well on Aug. 26, 2021, in Watford City, N.D. Such oil wells will continue to be built due to the Biden administration's new plans to lease land for mining. AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File

The so-called social costs of emissions from burning oil and gas from the parcels — including higher sea levels, wildfires and public health problems all due to climate change — are projected to range from $357 million to more than $4 billion, according to the Interior Department.

The administration's decision not to cite the costs of climate change as a reason to limit leases frustrates environmental activists and others who have urged curbs in government fossil fuel sales. They said it undermined the president's participation in the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, where world leaders on Tuesday pledged to cut emissions of methane, a byproduct of drilling.

Similar determinations that U.S. fossil fuel lease sales should not be restricted over global warming concerns were made under former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

"This seems to be is business as usual," Jeremy Nichols with the environmental group WildEarth Guardians said of the upcoming lease sales. "It flies in the face of scientists finding that any more fossil fuel production is unacceptable and countries need to find ways to limit production."

Republicans and petroleum industry representatives were quick to slam Biden last week when he announced plans to analyze emissions. The decision not to directly address them reinforces that stopping development of federal lands would have little impact on climate change, said Kathleen Sgamma with the Western Energy Alliance, an industry trade group.

"Stopping all leasing and development on federal lands would have zero impact on climate change, as the production is simply displaced to nonfederal lands or to OPEC" or other foreign producers," Sgamma said.

Studies by independent experts have concluded that some but not all reduced drilling on federal lands and waters would be offset by crude imports.

Next year's lease sale will be the first by the land bureau since Biden suspended the program just a week after taking office as part of his plan to address climate change. The administration was ordered to resume sales by a federal judge in Louisiana, who said Interior officials offered no "rational explanation" for canceling them.

Attorneys general from 13 states had sued the administration saying the suspension would cost the states money and jobs.