The Biden administration has leased less land for oil and gas drilling on government land and offshore than any other presidential administration at this point, going back to the end of World War II, according to a recent analysis conducted by The Wall Street Journal. It doesn’t incorporate leased Alaska land since the 1990s.
The Interior Department leased around 126,000 acres for drilling until August 20, which was during Biden’s first 19 months as president. Richard Nixon was the last president to do fewer than 4.4 million acres at this point during his first term, and Harry Truman was the last president to green-light fewer acres than Biden — in the 1940s.
In the first 19 months of a president’s administration, Ronald Reagan leased the most in recent years — leasing out over 47 million federal acres. Barack Obama leased over 7 million, and Jimmy Carter did more than 11 million.
When Biden was campaigning, however, he said he would end drilling on federal property.
“Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill period,” Biden said in a 2020 Democratic presidential debate.
When Biden got into office, he paused new leases and extra reviews had to be done for drilling permits for around two months. He slightly pulled back on this when Russia invaded Ukraine and there were huge spikes in oil costs, as he pushed for more oil sources.
The administration only had auctions in one of the six quarters it has held office, which took place in late June after gas prices were skyrocketing. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 notably says that onshore oil and gas leasing has to be done “at least quarterly.”
The leasing practice had already been dropping off because oil and gas companies were less willing to develop offshore drilling and federal lands as fracking took off, but Biden has accelerated the drop. Leasing is down 97% from the first 19 months of former President Donald Trump’s time in office.
The Biden administration has avoided admitting this. The Interior Department said, according to the Journal, that it gave out a record amount of drilling permits for leases that were already in place last year. Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the industry has moved toward private and state-owned property and around 60% of the approximately 35 million acres the federal government leases isn’t in production.
The Inflation Reduction Act says the federal government has to provide at least two million federal acres and 60 million offshore acres each year for oil and gas leases, but there are ways to do so that don’t necessarily promote the leasing.
White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said the Biden administration is “making America a magnet for clean energy manufacturing investment, securing America’s clean energy future, and putting us on track to meet our climate goals” while still manufacturing close to record oil numbers.
However, the numbers don’t lie. The Interior Department has given out 203 leases for oil and gas in President Biden’s first 19 months. Trump and Obama each greenlit 10 times as many during the same time span. All of this could mean even higher fuel costs and more reliance on foreign sources of oil in the future.