You probably recall a proclamation that President Joe Biden issued on his first day in office. There would be a “pause” in the issuance of new drilling permits on public lands or for offshore sites. Many of us who follow the energy industry closely had a sinking feeling because that “pause” could easily turn into a de facto ban. But not long after that, a strange thing happened. Permits began to quietly be approved again. Unless I missed it, I never saw an official announcement from the White House declaring an end to the pause, but business seemed to be returning to normal in the oil and gas industry. (Or as close to normal as anything gets these days.) And now, in news that will likely come as a shocking disappointment to many of Biden’s most ardent supporters in the environmental movement, the total number of permits issued since Joe Biden was sworn in has grown to record levels not seen since George W. Bush was in office. (Associated Press)
Approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president, underscoring President Joe Biden’s reluctance to more forcefully curb petroleum production in the face of industry and Republican resistance.
The Interior Department approved about 2,500 permits to drill on public and tribal lands in the first six months of the year, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. That includes more than 2,100 drilling approvals since Biden took office January 20.
New Mexico and Wyoming had the largest number of approvals. Montana, Colorado and Utah also had hundreds each.
The AP reminds us that Biden made a pledge during his presidential campaign to end drilling on public lands, though his staff tried to quickly walk it back. The decision remains under his control both directly and indirectly. Further, the permits are technically approved and issued by the Department of the Interior. Biden’s pick for Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, similarly went out in public promising to oppose oil and gas drilling on public land. If she really wanted to shut down the flow she could do it, but it would need to be with the approval of the President.
So what’s going on behind the scenes? That’s not too difficult to figure out. Joe Biden is getting a lot of pushback, not just from Republican elected officials, but from the voters. They’ve already watched tens of thousands of good jobs disappear when Biden canceled construction on the Keystone XL pipeline. If he significantly slashes the amount of oil and gas exploration going on, even more jobs will go away.
On top of that, gas prices have been spiking ever since Biden took office. If they continue to rise and he’s seen as having squeezed the supply, he’ll be the one taking the blame for it. It’s simply not practical to basically shut down the oil and gas industry in this country and it would be political suicide to try it. That one industry impacts and supports many others and touches on far more aspects of voters’ lives than just the cost they pay at the pump or the heating bill they receive at the end of the month.
In other words, both Biden and Haaland talked a good game on the campaign trail and the Sunday morning shows. But when the time came for actual action, calculations were made and some campaign promises no longer were practical to keep.