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As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden promised at least twice: "No more drilling on federal lands."
As president, he approved a major new drilling project on leased federal land in Alaska.
As he campaigned for president in 2020, Joe Biden responded to a New Hampshire town hall question unequivocally, adding repetition for emphasis.
"No more drilling on federal lands," he said Feb. 9, 2020. "Period. Period. Period. Period."
Biden repeated his stance a month later, saying at a presidential primary debate: "No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends."
Three years later, the Biden administration disappointed supporters of his climate change policy by approving a major drilling project in Alaska.
The March 13 decision allows ConocoPhillips to drill up to 199 wells for oil and gas in the Willow Reservoir in the North Slope of Alaska.
Houston-based ConocoPhillips processes, refines and markets crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products. The Willow project, which is expected to last 30 years, will be done mostly on federal lands.
We are putting Biden’s statements about drilling on federal lands on PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter, which measures the extent to which a politician flips position on an issue, without making a judgment call about those changes.
ConocoPhillips estimated that the Willow project will create 2,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, and produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day (about 1.5% of total U.S. oil production), and about 600 million barrels over 30 years.
Two dozen environmental groups issued a statement condemning Biden’s decision, claiming the project would release 239 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. On March 14, six environmental groups sued the Biden administration to stop the project.
A vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is driven by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by human activity.
ConocoPhillips first obtained a lease to drill in federal lands in the Willow area in 1999.
So, Biden didn’t approve a new lease, but he allowed ConocoPhillips to proceed with its Willow project.
The Biden administration defended its decision to media outlets and to PolitiFact by saying that the leases are essentially contracts, and that refusing to allow the Willow drilling could trigger legal action resulting in fines on the government.
John Leshy, the Interior Department’s top lawyer during the Clinton administration, told PolitiFact that politics likely influenced Biden’s decision more than potential fines, given bipartisan support for the drilling project among Alaska elected officials.
The White House issued no statement on Biden’s decision.
The Interior Department issued a statement March 13 emphasizing that the administration reduced Willow’s scope. That included rejecting two of the five proposed drill sites and requiring ConocoPhillips to give up about 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the area.
On March 12, the department announced that Biden designated 2.8 million acres of sea in the Arctic Ocean near the Willow project as off-limits for oil and gas leasing.
PolitiFact is tracking Biden’s campaign promises; Biden’s pledge to block new fracking on federal lands rates Promise Broken. In April, his administration announced it would resume onshore oil and gas lease sales on public lands. As a practical matter, any wells that are drilled are likely to use fracking, which injects water, sand and chemicals into bedrock to extract underground oil or gas.
As a presidential candidate, Biden said: "No more drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period. Period."
As president, he approved a proposal to drill up to 199 wells for oil and gas on federal land in Alaska. The project is expected to last about 30 years.
We rate his complete change in position a Full Flop.
RELATED: Biden Promise Tracker
RELATED: Full Flop fact-checks
C-SPAN, "Joe Biden Campaign Event in Hudson, New Hampshire," (1:09:16) Feb. 9, 2020
Email, Biden administration official, March 14, 2023
Email, Brian Hires, spokesperson, Bureau of Land Management, March 14, 2023
New York Times, "How Biden Got From ‘No More Drilling’ to Backing a Huge Project in Alaska," published March 12, 2023; updated March 13, 2023
Associated Press, "Alaska’s Willow oil project is controversial. Here’s why," March 14, 2023
Vox, "Biden just broke a big climate promise," March 14, 2023
NBC News, "Biden administration approves controversial Alaska oil drilling project," March 13, 2023
KINY Radio, "Climate groups issue a response to Willow Project Decision," March 13, 2023
Bureau of Land Management, "Willow Master Development Plan — Record of Decision," March 2023
Bureau of Land Management, "Oil and gas statistics, fiscal 2022," (Summary Table, Table 3) accessed March 14, 2023
Interior Department, "Share Interior Department Substantially Reduces Scope of Willow Project," March 13, 2023
Interior Department, "Biden-Harris Administration Announces Sweeping Protections for Up To 16 Million Acres of Land and Water in Alaska," March 12, 2023
The White House, "Statements and releases," accessed March 14, 2023
ConocoPhillips, "Willow," January 2023
ConocoPhillips, "ConocoPhillips Welcomes Record of Decision on the Willow Project," March 13, 2023
PolitiFact, "Joe Biden breaks promise to ban new fracking on federal lands," April 22, 2022
PolitiFact, "In debate, Joe Biden said no more oil drilling and no new fracking, didn’t say shutdowns," March 20, 2020
JoeBiden.com, "The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice," accessed March 14, 2023
Interview, John Leshy, University of California San Francisco emeritus Harry D. Sunderland and distinguished professor of real property law and former general counsel of the Interior Department, March 14, 2023
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