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Biden plans to open more public land to drilling

This Feb. 26, 2021, file photo shows an oil well east of Casper, Wyo. The Biden administration is raising royalty rates that companies must pay for oil and natural gas extracted from federal lands.Mead Gruver/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Friday that it would resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands but would also raise the federal royalties that companies must pay to drill, which would be the first increase in those fees in more than a century.

The Interior Department said in a statement that it planned to open up 145,000 acres of public lands in nine states to oil and gas leasing next week, the first new fossil fuel permits to be offered on public lands since President Biden took office.

The move comes as Biden seeks to show voters that he is working to increase the domestic oil supply as prices surge in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it also violates a signature campaign pledge made by Biden, as he sought to assure climate activists that he would prioritize reducing the use of fossil fuels.

“And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” Biden told voters in New Hampshire in February 2020.


Upon taking office, Biden issued an executive order calling for a temporary ban on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, which was to remain in place while the Interior Department produced a comprehensive report on the state of the federal oil and gas drilling programs.

That report, issued in November, recommended an overhaul of the rents and royalty fees charged for drilling both on land and offshore. The report noted one estimate that the government had lost up to $12.4 billion in revenue from drilling on federal lands from 2010 through 2019 because royalty rates have been frozen for a century.

In opening up the new public lands for oil and gas permitting, the Interior Department will raise the royalty rates that companies must pay to the federal government from 12.5 percent of their profits to 18.75 percent, an increase that could bring in billions of dollars of new revenue.


“For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of tribal nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations.”

The new lease sales marks the second major step the Biden administration has taken to open up public lands and waters for drilling. Late last year, the Interior Department offered up to 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for drilling leases, the largest sale since 2017. The administration was legally obligated to hold that lease sale after Republican attorneys general from 13 states successfully overturned a suspension on sales that Biden had tried to impose. Environmental activists criticized the administration, saying the lease sales represented backsliding on Biden’s already-stalled climate change agenda.

“The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said Randi Spivak, director of the public lands for Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods, and megadroughts and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.”


But it comes as part of a recent series of steps that Biden has taken as he attempts to assuage voter anxiety over rising gasoline prices. This month, he announced the largest-ever release of oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reached a deal to increase natural gas exports to Europe, and called on Congress to enact legislation to compel oil companies to drill on their leases.