Oil production is ramping up on federal public lands despite President Biden’s promise to end new drilling. The Bureau of Land Management has signed off on roughly 2,200 applications for new projects so far and approvals are on pace to hit their highest levels since the last year of the Bush administration.
A majority are in New Mexico, which is rapidly becoming one of the top oil producers in the nation. The boom is fueled by rising crude prices following a massive, pandemic-related slump. Federal royalties have increased by 31% since the beginning of this year.
But the flurry of activity goes against a campaign promise from Biden to end oil and gas permitting on millions of acres of public lands – a promise that environmental protection groups say administration officials aren’t following through on.
“They made that promise for a very good reason,” said Taylor McKinnon, senior campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Those reasons are shown in the drying Colorado. They’re shown in record heat waves in the Northwest. They’re shown in massive wildfires.”
Fossil fuels are one of the leading contributors to climate change, which has exacerbated severe drought and other environmental impacts throughout the West.
An Interior Department spokesperson pointed to Biden’s January executive order which called for a pause on new oil and gas leasing. But it also allows projects already in the pipeline to continue through the approval process.
It’s a move environmentalists such as McKinnon say doesn’t go far enough. His organization signed onto a letter sent to the Biden administration in June that asked officials to halt new drilling permits and cancel Trump-era oil and gas leases on public lands.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Nevada Public Radio and KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.