by Mark Schlosberg
President Biden’s early climate actions signal a welcome shift from Trump’s radical, fossil fuel-driven agenda. However, thus far they fall short of what he promised during his campaign and — most importantly — what is needed to avert climate chaos. When it comes to fracking and fossil fuels, confusing and inaccurate reporting on what Biden ordered abounds.
Biden’s executive orders have been referred to as a “moratorium on oil, gas drilling on federal land,” and “drilling moratorium,” and halt to “far-reaching suspension of new oil and gas development on federal land.” In reality, it is none of these things. Here is a breakdown on what Biden has done, and what he hasn’t done.
Biden Did Not Ban Fracking and Drilling on Federal Lands
Biden promised during the campaign to ban “new oil and gas permitting on public lands,” but this is not what his executive order does. It merely pauses new leasing of federal lands for oil and gas development for an undetermined period of time, while his administration conducts a review. Following his executive order, Biden’s Interior Department clarified this stating that “the targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved.” During his press conference, Biden also doubled down, stating his opposition to a fracking ban. He said this despite his promise that he’ll listen to science and the hundreds of peer-reviewed studies showing that fracking is dangerous to human health, water, and the climate.
Fracking and Drilling Permits are Also Not Temporary Halted
It was also reported that the Interior Department had put a 60 day halt on all drilling and fracking leases and permits through a secretarial order issued on January 20th. This is false. The moratorium only applies to the agency’s civil service staff issuing permits. Permits can still be approved by Biden’s political appointees, and it appears some permits have been issued for existing leases.
Aside From Keystone, Biden Did Not Block or Delay Any Fossil Fuel Infrastructure
Biden made big news with his day one order blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, an important step and the result of years of organizing by Indigenous leaders and many allied organizations. However, none of his actions do anything to stop or delay any of the other many fracking pipelines, power plants and export facilities which are moving forward across the country. These include the Dakota Access Pipeline and Line 3, both of which are also opposed by powerful Indigenous-led campaigns.
Biden Didn’t Declare a Climate Emergency
In issuing his executive orders, Biden said we face a “profound climate crisis,” and said addressing it was “more necessary and urgent than ever.” Still, he did not declare a climate emergency, which has been a top climate movement demand and would trigger additional powers that would allow Biden to halt oil and gas exports, a critical step to moving off fossil fuels.
There Remains Plenty of Land That Big Oil and Gas Can Drill and Frack
Despite the actions taken by Biden to temporarily halt leasing of new land for oil and gas production, there is still plenty of additional damage that fossil fuel companies can do utilizing existing leases and permits. As the Department of Interior pointed out in their release the same day, “the oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters.” The release notes over 13.9 million unused acres leased on federal lands and approximately 7700 permits to drill on federal lands and waters. All of these can continue to be developed under Biden’s orders.
The Department of Interior release noted “a fire sale of public lands and waters,” under the Trump administration, of which 5.6 million acres were purchased. This is a lot of acres, but — it’s worth noting — not that much more than the nearly 5 million acres that were leased for oil and gas under the second term of the Obama-Biden administration.
Biden has taken some good first steps, but it is going to take much more to undo the damage of not just the Trump administration, but the last several decades of political inaction on climate change. It will take nothing less than a ban on fracking and related infrastructure and a bold plan to build back fossil free that centers a fair and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Urge President Biden to take an unmistakable step with a permanent ban on fracking federal lands.
Our planet can’t wait. Urge Biden to ban fracking on federal lands for good.