Fracking, Federal Lands, And Follow-Through: Will President Biden Do What He Promised?

Our new president made a promise to ban fracking on public lands while he was on the campaign trail. Whether he keeps it or not could be the first domino to change the fate of the world.


Climate and Energy

If we are going to have any chance of avoiding the worst of climate change, we need to ban fracking and leave the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. Our new President Joe Biden has the ability to take an important first step towards a livable future by halting the leasing for new oil and gas drilling on federal lands, something he promised to do during the campaign. Biden should take this action on day one, but that action alone will not be nearly enough. To avert climate chaos, Biden must embrace a vision of moving off fossil fuels completely.

Trump’s Greenlight To Frack Federal Lands Builds On What Obama and Biden Started

Banning new development of oil and gas on federal lands would be significant for the climate and the protection of some of our most treasured historical sites and national parks. Between now and 2050, new drilling on federal lands could produce the carbon equivalent of 1,000 coal fired power plants at a time when we need to be dramatically reducing our carbon emissions. Further, oil and gas production on federal lands is increasingly threatening some of our most iconic national parks and historic sites including Grand Teton, the Everglades, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Chaco Canyon.

Leasing of federal land for oil and gas development has increased under Trump. According to the Wilderness Society Action Fund and the Guardian, his administration has leased 5.4 million acres of public land for oil and gas development — an area the size of New Jersey. Coupled with his gutting of already too weak regulations of the production and transport of oil and gas, Trump’s actions have recklessly increased emissions and pushed us even closer to climate chaos. But while Trump’s actions have escalated oil and gas drilling on federal lands, they in some ways continued a trend started under the Obama-Biden administration.

The Obama-Biden “All Of The Above” Energy Strategy Cannot Continue Under Biden

When Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a complete ban on fracking in 2011, we warned that rather than being a bridge to a clean energy future, fracking was a “bridge to nowhere” that would sidestep “promising and genuinely reliable alternative energy solutions.” At the time, many larger environmental organizations were touting fracked gas as a bridge to a clean energy future and this bridge argument was embraced by Democratic Party leadership. Expanded oil and gas production became a pillar in the Obama-Biden “all of the above energy strategy,” and in 2012, Obama-Biden campaigned for re-election, touting increased domestic oil and gas production.

In response, Food & Water Watch joined with other groups to form a coalition — Americans Against Fracking — aimed at pushing back against expanded fracking. Stopping the leasing of federal lands was a cornerstone of this coalition effort. We submitted over 650,000 comments calling for a ban on fracking on federal lands to the Obama-Biden administration and worked with progressive leaders in Congress to introduce legislation to protect our federal lands and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Still, while the consensus in the environmental community was shifting to recognize that fracking and a livable climate are incompatible, the administration continued to approve new leases and more fracking. In Obama-Biden’s second term, the Department of the Interior approved leases for fossil fuel extraction of nearly 5 million acres, just a bit less than approved by the Trump Administration.

Stopping New Fracking Leases On Public Lands Isn’t Close To Enough

Biden’s embrace during the 2020 campaign for a halt to leasing federal land for oil and gas development is welcome and represents a significant shift in policy. His Interior Secretary appointment of Rep. Deb Haaland, a Native American congressperson who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock and supports a ban on fracking, is a welcome change from the industry-friendly appointees who served under Obama-Biden. But merely stopping new leases on federal lands will not be enough. After all, over 10 million acres of land were leased under Trump and the last term of Obama-Biden alone, making our efforts to move off fossil fuels all the more difficult.

What it will take is a bold vision and leadership to move the country completely off fossil fuels. This means stopping new leasing of federal lands, but it also means reversing the damage that has been done in the last decade since we first raised the call for a national ban on fracking. This means advancing an agenda that stops all new fossil fuel power plants, pipelines, and other infrastructure, banning fracking nationally either through regulation or legislation, halting the buildout of fossil fuel export facilities and petrochemical hubs that are turning fracking byproducts into plastics, and initiating a fair and just transition that starts shutting down existing fossil fuel plants as we build out our renewable energy infrastructure.

Help Us Push Biden To Take This Series Of Steps To Ban Fracking

Biden can start by halting new leasing and fossil fuel projects on day one by executive order. But it’s up to all of us to move him to do more once that is a done deal. Already a number of state and local officials have called on Biden and Congress to advance a national fracking ban and move the country off fossil fuels as a next step in demonstrating broad support and pressuring Congress and the new administration to act.

Join us by asking President Biden to take this historic first step in banning fracking on public lands.