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Biden plans to open more public land for drilling

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

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

The move comes as President Biden is trying to show voters he is working to increase domestic oil supplies as prices soar in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it also goes against a campaign pledge signed by Mr. Biden when he tried to reassure climate activists that he would prioritize reducing fossil fuel use.

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

Upon taking office, Mr. Biden issued an executive order calling for a temporary ban on new oil and gas leasing on public land, to remain in effect while the Interior Department prepared a comprehensive report on the status of federal oil and gas drilling programs .

That report, released in November, recommended a review of rents and royalties charged for both onshore and offshore drilling. The report found an estimate that the government lost up to $12.4 billion in revenue from drilling on state land from 2010 to 2019 because royalties had been frozen for a century.

By opening up the new public lands for oil and gas permits, the Interior Department will raise the royalties 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 new dollars in revenue .

“For too long, federal oil and gas lease programs have prioritized the needs of the extractive industries over local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of tribal peoples, and beyond other uses of our community’s public lands,” said Home Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today we begin to redefine how and what we believe is the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all present and future generations.”

The new lease sale is the second major step the Biden administration has taken to open up public land and water for drilling. Late last year, the Interior Department offered up to 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for drill leases, its largest sale since 2017. The administration was legally required to go through with that lease sale after Republican attorneys general from 13 states successfully lifted a stay on sales Mr .Biden had tried to enforce. Environmental activists have criticized the government, saying the lease sales are a throwback to Mr Biden’s already stalled climate change agenda.

“The Biden administration’s claim that it must go ahead with these leasehold sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said Randi Spivak, director of public lands at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s like ignoring the horrors of firestorms, floods and mega droughts and accepting climate catastrophe as normal business.”

But it’s part of a recent series of moves Mr. Biden has taken as he tries to allay voters’ fears of rising gas prices. This month he announced the largest-ever release of oil from the country’s strategic petroleum reserve, reached an agreement to boost natural gas exports to Europe and urged Congress to pass legislation to force oil companies to drill on their leases.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/climate/biden-drilling-oil-leases.html Biden plans to open more public land for drilling

Mike Fahey

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