Despite pledging to stop permitting oil and gas drilling on federal lands, President Joe Biden’s administration is approving permits at a faster rate than President Donald Trump did during most of his presidency, a new report reveals.
According to data from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) analyzed by Public Citizen, the agency has approved about 333 drilling permits per month in 2021 since Biden took office. This is a higher rate than was approved under Trump in 2017, 2018 and 2019, though it is 25 percent lower than 2020’s average.
Permitting rates hit a high this spring and summer, when the administration was on track to beat Trump’s 2020 record of approving 452 projects per month. In July, The Associated Press reported that the Biden administration was on pace to approve drilling at the fastest rate since President George W. Bush was in office.
Climate advocates have expressed their frustration with the Biden administration in response to the report. “The president has basically only tried to tackle one side of the climate problem,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org and director of Fossil Free Media, told The Washington Post. “He’s talked a lot about building clean energy, but he hasn’t done anything to stop fossil fuels. And you need to tackle both sides if we’re going to address this crisis.”
Biden has made some flashy moves on oil drilling, like revoking the permit for Keystone XL, the pipeline project perhaps most infamous among environmentalists. But that same month, Biden approved Enbridge Energy’s Line 3, a slightly less well-known pipeline project that Indigenous and climate advocates have been fighting for seven years to stop — often putting their bodies on the line in the process.
In November, the Interior Department recommended raising the fees that oil and gas companies have to pay when drilling on federal lands. This change was panned as trivial by climate and environmental activists, who noted that the fees would likely do little to prevent companies from seeking new drilling projects — especially considering the trillions of dollars in subsidies that the fossil fuel industry receives from governments each year.
Halting permits for drilling projects is critical to stopping the advent of the climate crisis. Earlier this year, the often conservative International Energy Agency said in a report that if international powers are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less, governments must stop permitting new fossil fuel extraction projects this year. Climate advocates have also said that new drilling projects should stop immediately, adding that fossil fuels that have already been extracted shouldn’t be burned either.
The amount of drilling permits granted by BLM under Biden shows that the president isn’t serious about tackling the climate crisis, advocates have said. “At precisely the moment when we must be forcefully rejecting new drilling, fracking and pipeline infrastructure, Biden isn’t just tolerating fossil fuels – he’s uplifting them,” Wenonah Hauter wrote for The Guardian.
The administration’s fossil fuel regulators have shown little interest in taking the recommendations of climate advocates seriously. Earlier this year, a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned of extremely dire consequences for the climate if action isn’t taken soon. But the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) wrote that the report “does not present sufficient cause” for the agency to reconsider its drilling permit practices.