Energy & Environment

Biden approving oil, gas drilling permits on public lands at faster rate than Trump: analysis

The Biden administration is approving drilling permits at a faster clip than the Trump administration, according to data first analyzed by the advocacy group Public Citizen.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) data indicate that in 2021, the agency has approved drilling permits at an average of 336 per month, an increase from the monthly average of 245 at this point during the Trump administration.

Public Citizen’s analysis omitted January, as then-President Trump was in office for most of that month, but even without January data the monthly average stood at 333.

The rate of approvals remains below the 2020 high-water mark of 452 per month. Much of that is due to a period between the end of the 2020 election season and Biden’s inauguration season when oil and gas companies, anticipating increased regulation under Biden, stockpiled leases, according to an Associated Press analysis.

By other measures, however, the Biden administration continues to trail the Trump administration on leasing.

On a state-by-state basis, BLM issued 2,994 public lands drilling permits in New Mexico, the most productive oil state, in 2020 compared to 1,949 as of Nov. 30, 2021. However, the Biden administration’s figure for the state still exceeded that of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The picture was similar across the board for the six most productive states—New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota and California. In these states, 3,605 permits have been approved in 2021 as of Nov. 30, fewer than 5,362 in 2020 but more than that of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

After losing a federal court challenge of the leasing pause, the Biden administration has resumed lease sales while vowing to appeal the decision. The Interior Department has also pledged to conduct a thorough review of the greenhouse gas impacts of leasing. As of fall 2021, the administration has deferred about three quarters of originally-proposed land from leasing, according to the Public Citizen analysis.

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