In his first week in office, President Joe Biden put a hold on new oil and gas leases on federal land pending a policy review by the Interior Department. This was the follow-through on a promise that emerged during the campaign.
In a March 15, 2020, debate, Biden seemed to say he would stop all new fracking. But he immediately emphasized that his plan applied only to federal lands and only to new leases.
The moratorium in January 2021 made good, at least temporarily, on Biden's words. Six months later, in June 2021, a federal judge blocked Biden's order, saying lease sales should move forward.
The Interior Department complied and held a massive sale of 80 million acres offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, only to see another judge rescind that sale for failing to consider climate impacts. The sale remains tied up in court.
But onshore leasing has come. On April 15, 2022, the Interior Department announced its first onshore lease sale since Biden's moratorium. In June, the government will offer about 144,000 acres for drilling. Nearly all of that — 132,000 acres — is in Wyoming, with the remainder in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada and Oklahoma.
As a practical matter, any wells that are drilled are likely to use fracking.
"For the most part, you can't have an economically viable well without using fracking technology," said Elizabeth Craddock, a Washington attorney who represents many oil and gas clients. "More than 75% of new production has fracking involved."
So, the new leases will produce new fracking.
The Interior Department applied new standards in picking the sites for its auction. It aimed to cluster new wells close to existing drilling to reduce disruption on new lands and make full use of existing roads and other infrastructure. It estimated the greenhouse gas emissions that would come from the new wells.
It also increased the royalty rate from 12.5% to 18.75%.
The scale of the offering is smaller than similar sales from before Biden took office. In December 2020, the government listed 275,000 acres in Wyoming. The June sale lists 130,000 acres. The December 2020 sale in Colorado included 47,000 acres. The upcoming one in June has about 5,000 acres.
The Interior Department said in a press release that it had trimmed the number of acres requested by the industry by 80%.
Laura Zachary, a consulting analyst who has worked with environmental groups, warned of the long term impact of this sale on greenhouse gas emissions.
"Once these leases are sold, it is very difficult to take back control over them or to change the terms of existing leases," Zachary said." If sold and developed, these leases will likely continue to produce oil and gas past 2050."
Advocates of a faster shift away from fossil fuels have noted that even before the announced lease sale, the Biden administration had already green-lighted new fracking. In January, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report that found the Interior Department had approved 3,557 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first year. That was about 1,000 more permits than during the first year of the Trump administration.
We reached out to the White House to ask about Biden's promise and did not hear back.
We rate this Promise Broken.