President Biden has leased fewer acres for offshore oil and gas production than any other President before him since the inception of offshore drilling rights. Not since Harry Truman have fewer acres of federal land or offshore rights to develop oil and gas resources been leased by a U.S. president. Under President Truman, offshore drilling was just beginning and the federal government did not yet control the deep-water leases that have made up the largest part of the federal oil-and-gas program. It is clear from the graph below that the Biden administration is withholding U.S. energy development at a time when the world is facing an energy crisis and consumers are experiencing very high prices. While President Biden says he is doing all he can to bring down gasoline prices, the reality is vastly different. He is withholding resources that Americans own, resulting in gasoline prices reaching an all-time high of $5 a gallon. One forecaster is predicting that gasoline prices will return to that level again by the end of the year, after sales from the emergency reserve end just before Election Day. The following graph from the Wall Street Journal indicates how few acres have been leased during his first 19 months in office despite the law requiring oil and natural gas lease sales.
President Biden’s Interior Department leased 126,228 acres for drilling through August 20. Under Biden’s stewardship leasing is down 97 percent from the first 19 months of President Trump’s term. No other president since Richard Nixon in 1969-70 leased out fewer than 4.4 million acres at this stage in his first term, and that was in the wake of the Santa Barbara oil spill of January 1969. Harry Truman was the last president to lease out fewer acres—65,658—in 1945-46, but as noted above the offshore program was just starting during his term. During former presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, leasing was at record highs in the 1970s and early 1980s in response to geopolitical oil crises. Mr. Reagan still holds the record, leasing nearly 48 million acres in his first 19 months, almost three times as much as any other president.
The U.S. Department of Interior awarded 203 leases for oil and gas development during Biden’s first 19 months in office while former Presidents Trump and Obama each approved 10 times as many leases during that time period. Going back into prior Presidencies, the 203 leases under Mr. Biden amount to just 3.2 percent of what all the Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to Donald Trump awarded on average in the same time period. For offshore drilling, the Biden administration has yet to complete a sale. This is consistent with Interior Secretary Haaland’s repeal of President Trump’s “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” embraced within SO 3350, and issued via SO 3398 on April 16, 2021.
During Biden’s first week in office, he imposed an indefinite moratorium on new leases, and required Interior to perform additional reviews on drilling permits for the next 60 days. Since then, the Biden administration has held only one offshore lease sale, which was invalidated by a court in January. The administration resumed onshore leasing over the summer following a June 2021 ruling by a federal judge in Louisiana that the president’s moratorium was unlawful.
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 requires onshore oil and gas leasing “at least quarterly.” While the Biden administration has been in office for six quarters, it has conducted auctions in just one of those quarters. That happened in late June, after the administration came under increasing pressure to reduce gasoline prices that had reached $5 a gallon.
The climate/tax bill, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by Mr. Biden on August 16, requires the Interior Department to offer at least 2 million acres of federal land and 60 million offshore acres to oil and gas producers every year for the next decade. Those requirements must be met for an administration to permit wind-power and solar-power development. Critics of the law are suggesting that Interior offer areas unappealing to the oil and gas industry. When no interest is expressed in the sales, the letter of the law would be met, but it would result in no new oil and gas leases or exploration. Or, the administration could just forgo wind and solar development on federal lands.
U.K. Switches Direction on Oil and Gas Development
Newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss plans to increase domestic energy supply to help bring down energy prices. She told parliament that the government would increase supply through North Sea resources and more nuclear power stations. As a result, the British government is expected to announce dozens of new North Sea oil and gas exploration licenses that would increase domestic oil production. The exact number of new licenses is unavailable, but a source indicates the number of new licenses could be as many as 130. Britain’s last offshore licensing was in 2020. She is also taking the radical step of removing the ban on hydraulic fracturing, which was banned in England in 2019, despite horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing making the United States energy independent in the same year. Domestic production in England could be restarted as early as March 2023.
Truss said, “…we do need to make sure that our energy supplies are more resilient and more secure, so we are never in this situation again.” That is something President Biden needs to do also. The most secure energy supplies are our own, but Biden clearly does not want to develop them. Will it take the same kind of energy crisis as in Europe for Biden to realize that we need to develop our abundant energy resources?
“No more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling including offshore—no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill—period,” Biden said when he ran for office. And, Biden is implementing those words, which is increasing energy prices for Americans. He is using antics such as releasing oil from the emergency reserve to lower gasoline prices, but that reserve can last just so long. And, depleting the reserve is not a very wise solution when prices will just spiral back up after it is depleted. Europe is finding that its energy transition to wind and solar power is not working, which is why Liz Truss is removing the ban on hydraulic fracturing and providing more licenses for North Sea exploration. Biden and Congress need to take note.