Biden administration will address oil and gas leasing climate impacts, reconsider sales to oil and gas industry

These settlement agreements resolve lawsuits over the leasing of nearly 4 million acres of federal public lands across Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to the oil and gas industry.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—In response to lawsuits filed by WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center, the Biden administration will review and reconsider decisions to sell nearly 4 million acres of public lands oil and gas leases as part of three settlement agreements upheld by a federal judge this week.

“This is a big win for the climate and a real test to see if the Biden administration is going to get serious about confronting the climate impacts of selling public lands for fracking,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program director for WildEarth Guardians. “With the oil and gas industry bent on despoiling America’s public lands and fueling the climate crisis, this is a critical opportunity for the Biden administration to chart a new path toward clean energy and independence from fossil fuels.”

Between 2016 and 2021, the groups filed lawsuits challenging the sale of millions of acres of public lands for fracking in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

The suits targeted the failure of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to address the climate implications of leasing oil and gas, which conveys a right for companies to extract and pollute. In an order late yesterday, Judge Rudolph Contreras dismissed the cases, upholding the settlements and rejecting industry attempts to derail the agreements.

“This suite of cases has entirely recast the federal government’s obligation to consider the cumulative climate impacts of oil and gas leasing on public lands,” said Kyle Tisdel, senior attorney and Climate and Energy Program director for the Western Environmental Law Center. “The incompatibility of continued fossil fuel exploitation with a livable planet is crystal clear. These settlements represent a fundamental opportunity for the Biden administration to align federal action with this climate reality and to keep its promise to present and future generations.”

Fossil fuels extracted from public lands and waters, including coal, oil, and gas, are responsible for more than 900 million metric tons of climate pollution, equal to the emissions from nearly 200 million vehicles. As these fossil fuels are produced and consumed, the emissions account for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gases released in U.S.

Together, oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for nearly 10% of all climate pollution released in the U.S.

“Our settlements give new hope that we can more effectively confront the climate crisis and protect our health from oil and gas extraction,” said Barbara Gottlieb, director of Environment & Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Given how dangerously greenhouse gas levels are rising, it’s critical that the Biden administration put the brakes on fracking and speed up the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Scientists have warned that to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis, oil, gas, and coal production must rapidly decrease worldwide, and ultimately end. In spite of this dire warning, the federal government has for years rubber-stamped more oil and gas leasing, locking in more greenhouse gas emissions. Most of this leasing has involved public lands in the western U.S.

The groups’ agreements provide new hope that the Biden administration will change course from previous federal administrations. President Biden already ordered a pause on new oil and gas leasing as part of an executive order tackling the climate crisis. Although this pause was halted by a federal judge, the administration has appealed this ruling.

In 2016, the groups filed suit challenging the sale of nearly 460,000 acres of public lands oil and gas leases in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of D.C., the case was the first to target the failure of Interior to address the nationwide climate impacts of its oil and gas leasing program.

In 2019, Judge Contreras ruled in favor of the groups. In the landmark ruling, Judge Contreras chided the federal government for ignoring the cumulative climate implications of oil and gas leasing.

Following this ruling, the groups again filed suit in 2020, challenging nearly 2 million acres of oil and gas leases in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Interior ultimately conceded defeat in late 2020 over most of the leasing. Shortly after, Judge Contreras issued another ruling in favor of the groups over the federal government’s failure to respond to his original order on remand.

In January 2021, right before President Biden assumed office, the groups again filed suit challenging the sale of more than 1 million acres of oil and gas leases in the western U.S.

The settlements resolve the three lawsuits, committing the Biden administration to address the climate implications of oil and gas leasing and reconsider past decisions. Citing the agreements, Judge Contreras today dismissed the three lawsuits.

16 thoughts on “Biden administration will address oil and gas leasing climate impacts, reconsider sales to oil and gas industry”

  1. Get ready for $6 per gallon gas and rolling blackouts, boys and girls! Gotta save the planet by dragging our nation back into the 3rd world. Preach it, Pastor Koehler!

    • Thanks, anonymous. My dad was the president of our Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church and my mom was (and still is, after over 60 years) the church organist, so they did really want me to go to seminary school and think it’s really neat that you called me Pastor Koehler.

      Do you think that the oil and gas industry’s record profits and the oil and gas industry being beholder to their shareholders has anything to do with high gas prices?

      Do you think the oil and gas industry is price gouging at the pump?

      Do you think the oil and gas industry has helped fuel Putin’s regime? I read that the oil and gas industry has put nearly $100 billion into Putin’s coffers since 2014.

      Did you see that the oil and gas industry is on pace to record $126 billion in profits in 2022>

      Is the oil and gas industry war profiteering off Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?

      Given all of this, why in the world would the oil and gas industry really want cheaper prices at the pump for consumers?

      • From today’s NY Times:
        “Mr. Biden finds it necessary to court other energy producers to replace oil from Moscow and stabilize world markets. The group of oil-producing nations called OPEC Plus, led by Saudi Arabia, announced on Thursday that they would increase production modestly in July and August, and American officials expect them to do more in the fall.”
        So in an effort to stabilize global energy prices we are asking countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and others to produce more oil while we (the US government) restrict our own oil and gas production.

        • jg: It’s the humanitarian thing to do. People in those countries need jobs more than we do. My understanding is that, except for the oil sheiks and politicians, most Arabians and Venezuelans are so poor they can’t even afford an electric car! If we are going to shut off the Russian pipelines, it’s only reasonable we shut ours down first. Fair is fair.

      • Let’s play the numbers game-how do you decrease prices at the pump:
        A) reduce demand (gas is relatively inelastic, folks gotta drive to work and beyond)
        B) increase supply
        Which one can the feds help with? Opening up leases will increase supply. Increasing fixed regulatory costs will raise the barrier to entry for those leases, favoring established companies. What am I missing? Maybe we can all avoid driving until we’re rich enough to buy Teslas?

        • Yes, please. Let’s play a numbers game.

          Do record oil and gas profits have anything to do with the price at the pump?

          Does the oil and gas industry exporting oil and gas drilled and processed in the U.S. impact the prices at the pump in the U.S.?

          Does the oil and gas industry sitting on millions of acres of current oil and gas leases, and thousands of drilling permits, impact the price of gas at the pump?

          It’s really incredible, if you think about it, how some people will fight to defend the oil and gas industry at all cost.

          Why in the world would the oil and gas industry want to have people pay less money at the pump? What possible benefit would that provide to oil and gas CEO’s or the shareholders that they are beholden?

          Can you think of many industries that fight tooth and nail to reduce the cost consumers pay their products?

          Can you think of many industries that brag about “pricing” that is super low? Or do industries get on quarterly calls with investors and brag about how their “pricing” is driving record profits?

          • Matt, I think we’re talking past each other. I ain’t defending the industry, just pointing out that large o and g companies are going to be the most poised to meet the high bar of regulations the administration is setting. Tighter controls are just going to allow the industry to consolidate more. Do you really think a small to medium operation is going to be able to pay the hundreds of hours of regulatory compliance work necessary?

            If you want prices to go down, get more players in the market, not less.

  2. Reverend Koehler,

    Profits are part of any companies portfolio. It doesn’t bother me that companies are profitable be it energy, tech, health, etc. What bothers me, as someone who lives in the rural west, is that gas prices are inching towards $6 gallon. We don’t live where there is mass public transportation. I can’t jump on a bus to go to work. Gas prices effect my personal bottom line. We need more supply from our own country, and not Saudi Arabia. Open up public lands for their intended use!

    • The issue isn’t companies being “profitable.” The issue is oil and gas corporations making a killing—figuratively and literally.

    • Health and Energy companies should face the highest scrutiny for decisions they make because their “products” have become so intertwined with our daily lives that there is no longer an option to live without them. When a trip to the emergency room (if you can afford the gas or ambulance) costs upwards of a months wages on a good day and the medication they recommend is comparable to another monthly mortgage payment, we have problems. When its in an oil refiners best interest to reduce capacity during peak demand and the world economy begins to crumble around them, something is wrong.

      Expecting government to make good decisions and guide us out of this mess is a big ask when so many in government will sit on the board of a health or energy company some day, if they haven’t already.

  3. A lot of these comments seem to assume that anything happening or not happening on public lands has some connection to current prices. I’m not seeing that. The role of public land supplies in future and pricing and security should be considered as they take the time to make better informed decisions.

    “U.S. producers reluctant to drill more oil, despite sky-high gas prices”

    “Climate pressure from employees, shareholders rattles Big Oil”

  4. Matthew,

    If you send messages to people not to invest in oil and gas futures (as the Biden Admin is) domestically, then attack the industry for not investing in future production, that’s a good gig. No matter what happens, they are the enemy. Not just the executives or shareholders, but the pipefitters and geologists and the whole enchilada.

    I don’t think that this is rational. And when something’s not rational, I wonder what’s really behind it.

    • I have a hard time with your continued assertions that pipefitters and geologists are “the enemy.” They are the civilian casualties of what the fighters believe is a “just” war, and some of that is always unavoidable.

      • I certainly didn’t say that they were the enemy. And I get that that some see a warfare analogy. I see it more as a family disagreement. Is this a gendered worldview?

        I wouldn’t mind if people acknowledged them (like they do timber workers) but some of the verbiage is as if the only people working are (evil) corporate executives. It’s a problem with partisanization…” if we support openly working people, except for those working in certain industries we’ve targeted, we are obliquely asking them not to support us…”.. maybe they won’t notice?

  5. “And what of the reports that fossil-fuel firms ratcheted down production in the past couple of years, allegedly because Biden was waging war on them?

    Even so, U.S. crude oil production has been rising again since about late 2020… In other words, in the documented history of U.S. oil production, there has been only about a year when U.S. oil producers pumped more per day than is the case right now.

    Despite this prized achievement, U.S. petroleum prices remain painfully high. That’s because even if we can meet all our consumption needs with domestic production, oil prices are still set by global markets.”

  6. And here’s a litany of reasons why we can’t make much progress towards true energy independence (which means supplies that can’t be manipulated so easily by corporations or governments).

    “U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry suggested that nations are falling prey to a flawed logic that fossil fuels will help them weather this period of instability, which has seen gas prices climb to a record-high national average of $5 per gallon.”

    Of note, with regard to a proposed transmission line in Maine:

    “The plan was opposed by some local conservation groups that argued the lines would create an environmental menace in Maine’s North Woods and that hydroelectric power is detrimental to fragile aquatic ecosystems. But the most potent opposition came from energy companies heavily invested in fossil fuel, which spent $24 million supporting the ballot initiative campaign to kill the transmission line… “The very local opposition did not surprise me,” Barringer said. “What did surprise me was the amount of money that poured in.”


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