Most Americans, in fact nearly all Americans, get around using vehicles that use gasoline. And nearly all of our goods are delivered in trucks that use diesel. If there’s no fuel, those vehicles don’t magically start running on water or banana peels or old gym socks or any other substance, natural or man-made.
This is a hard, difficult truth that Americans must absorb as the White House seeks to cut greenhouse gas pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels. The administration is putting a fair amount of energy into strategies that do not support that stated goal. Among these is President Joe Biden’s executive order to halt leasing on federal lands for oil and gas production. If America produces less oil, drivers will still fill their tanks, only with fuel made from oil produced somewhere else.
Two weeks ago, Biden announced a set of executive orders designed to meet the goal of significantly and quickly reducing carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Among the orders is a directive to the Department of Interior to pause all oil and gas leasing on federal lands until the department can review its fossil fuel leasing policies. Reviewing policies is a good move; halting leasing is not.
Search Google for maps of federal land, and you will find images of the U.S. that look like someone took a paintbrush to the western half of the country and ran out of paint at the Rocky Mountains. Federal land includes much more than National Parks and forest preserves. In the Western states (not Texas), most land belongs to the government, and the money generated by those lands goes to federal and state coffers.
Further, federal land contributes a chunk of total U.S. oil and gas production. According to the American Petroleum Institute, federal land, both onshore and offshore, in 2019 contributed about 22% of total U.S. oil production and 12% of natural gas production. (About 70% of federal oil production comes from offshore.)
Halting leasing won’t immediately halt production, as oil and gas companies operate existing wells and drill on leases already in hand. But zero leasing means production will most likely begin to taper off, and the ultimate decline will depend on how long the moratorium remains.
That’s a sad way to punish oil companies and their employees, plus the communities throughout the West that support them. Oil companies faced losses that will go down in the history books in 2020, as the pandemic-related recession reduced oil and gas consumption, and many have already cut back production anyhow, before the leasing moratorium. That makes 2021 a pretty good time for the government to review its leasing policies, but a terrible time to halt leasing.
We join the Texas members of Biden’s own Democratic Party in recommending he allow leasing to continue. And we join the White House in asking the Interior Department to review oil and gas leasing policies, but to do so after a period of public comment. A series of public forums throughout the affected states, where local people can weigh in, would be welcome.