Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has former President Barack Obama to thank for being on pace to approve the largest number of new oil and gas drilling permits since the George W. Bush administration.
Permitting reforms instituted by Obama, combined with fast-rising oil prices and the rejection by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of President Joe Biden’s would-be moratorium on new oil and gas permits on federal lands, have contributed to a surge in permitting.
Obama Mandates Electronic Filing
Executive Order 13604, issued in June 2012 instituted Obama’s goal of “Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects.”
The order laid out a government-wide initiative “to modernize the federal permitting and review process to achieve better projects, improved environmental and community outcomes, and shorter decision-making and review timelines for infrastructure projects.”
As a result of the EO, in 2016, the Bureau of Land Management shifted to all-electronic filing. Permit approval times dropped from approximately 200 days to 120 days and then to just 63 days, enabling the Trump administration cut in half long backlogs oil and gas permits, clearing nearly 500 permits that had been pending for 3 years or longer. In 2018, the BLM approved 3,991 drilling permits, up from 2,887 the year before.
In December 2020, the BLM approved more than 800 new drilling permits, the largest number in a single month during Trump’s four-year tenure. Another 400 permits were approved in the first 20 days of 2021, before Biden took office.
BLM’s Rapid Permitting Pace
The pace of permitting initially slowed in Biden’s first days in office, thanks largely to a temporary order elevating permit reviews to senior administration officials.
Since then, Biden’s BLM had issued over 2,100 drilling permits through the end of May, and 4,700 drilling applications are pending.
The permitting increase is, in part, a result of a Biden administration created oil boom. Prices rose sharply shortly after Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and imposed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on his first days in office. In addition, Saudi Arabia throttled back its production in response to some of Biden’s foreign policy moves.
Simultaneously, governors have increasingly loosened pandemic restrictions on their economies, resulting in higher demand for gasoline.
Gasoline prices have soared above $3.23 per gallon across all grades nationwide in July according to EIA data. When Trump left office in January, prices for gasoline at the pump averaged $2.42 cents per gallon.
Haaland’s proposed fiscal 2022 Interior Department budget delivered to the House Natural Resources Committee, failed to BLM’s oil and gas drilling programs.
Pressed by House Republicans during a budget hearing, Haaland reluctantly acknowledged reality dictates gas and oil production will continue indefinitely, despite the administration’s concerns about climate change.
Shifting to Energy Servitude
Biden’s dedication to ending America’s use of fossil fuels is undermining United States energy leadership and causing higher prices, said Dan Kish, senior vice president at the Institute for Energy Research.
“Biden immediately revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have fed refineries in the Gulf Coast with Canadian and North Dakota oil,” said Kish. “He is jettisoning the regulatory relief implemented under Trump that made it possible for the U.S. to become a net exporter of energy in 2019 for the first time in more than 60 years.
“On top of it all, he suspended legal leases in ANWR, which could feed the Alaska Pipeline and which is running at 20 percent of its capacity and declining every year,” Kish said. “Joe Biden has made it clear he wants to stop using American oil, gas, and coal; his entire administration is dedicated to it.”
‘Appeasing the Radical Greens’
Thankfully, judicial action in support of the law has kept Biden and Haaland from implementing their goal of a complete shutdown of federal leasing, said Craig Rucker, president of Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, which co-publishes Environment & Climate News.
“There are likely several reasons why the Interior Secretary is not pushing the issue of disrupting oil and gas production on federal lands at this time,” said Rucker. “For starters, the Biden administration recently lost an important court battle when U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty shot down the President’s executive order to suspend new leasing.
“This likely made them a little gun shy, especially when they know they will again face severe pushback from local governments, with another possible embarrassment in the courts, if they try to press too hard,” Rucker said. “In addition, gas prices have been raising upward and the Biden administration knows, if they hope to get the economy moving before the mid-term election, they have to weigh the options between appeasing the radical Greens and not ticking off voters.”
Haaland lacks a real-world understanding of economics and the foundation of America’s prosperity in fossil fuel use, says Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation.
“Deb Haaland is a radical idealist,” said Gessing. “She probably hasn’t actually had to sit down and try to understand complicated economic issues before taking this job at Interior.
“The fact that she is 60 years old and has a net worth of zero is an indicator she hasn’t focused much on nuts-and-bolts economic issues even in her personal life,” said Gessing. “Having to consider the stark reality of just how much our civilization relies on traditional energy sources and will continue to do so is an indicator that her radical ideology has run into reality.”
Duggan Flanakin (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Austin, Texas.