President Joe Biden's administration has leased far fewer acres for oil and gas drilling offshore and on federal land at the early stages of his presidency than has any other leader since Harry Truman at the end of World War II, according to a new analysis.
"The president said he was going to stop leasing, and he’s been remarkably successful," former Trump administration Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, an energy lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal in response to its analysis, which shows Biden's Interior Department has leased 126,228 acres for drilling in his first 19 months of office, through Aug. 20.
Only Truman, at this stage of his presidency, leased fewer acres, coming in at just 65,658 in 1945-46. However, notes the publication, at that time, the federal government did not control the deep-water leases that now make up the largest part of the federal energy program, and offshore drilling was just starting.
No other president's administration since Richard Nixon, in his 1969-70 period, has issued fewer than 4.4 million acres by this stage of a first term.
The paper quoted statistics from the federal bureaus of Land Management and Ocean Energy Management, but the numbers exclude the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Biden, while campaigning in 2020, promised to stop drilling on federal lands but changed his stance when oil prices climbed after Russia invaded Ukraine. Still, he pushed back from the leasing program that has been used by presidents for years.
The federal program was already declining when oil-and-gas companies turned to fracking shale and away from drilling offshore and on federal land, but under Biden, the decline dropped by 97% from the first 19 months of the year, compared to former President Donald Trump's first months in office.
Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said that industry trends are driving most production in the United States to private or state lands and that the department last year issued a record-high amount of drilling permits for already-existing leases.
She also said that out of the approximately 35 million acres that the federal government already leases, around 60% are not actively producing.
During Biden's first week in office, he placed an indefinite moratorium on new oil leases, while the Interior Department set a requirement for more reviews on drilling permits over the first 60 days of the administration.
The administration has tried just one offshore sale, which a court invalidated in January, and resumed onshore leasing this summer, after a federal judge in Louisiana ruled in June 2021 that Biden's moratorium was not lawful.
Leasing went to record highs in the 1970s and early 1980s under then-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with Reagan holding the record after leasing almost 48 million acres in his first 19 months in office.
"Stepping up domestic production has been a priority of every president from Nixon right up through Obama and of course, Trump," Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of S&P Global and a noted oil-industry historian, commented. "Whether Democrats or Republicans, presidents have wanted to embrace the idea of energy independence and production."
Biden's Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law on Aug. 16, includes a requirement that the Interior Department offers at least 60 million offshore acres and 2 million acres of federal land to oil and gas producers for the next decade for administrations to permit some development in wind and solar power.
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