President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an Executive Order directing a pause on new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters, concurrent with a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas programme.
The targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved. The order does not restrict energy activities on private or state lands, or lands that the United States holds in trust or restricted status for tribes or individual Indians, says the department of the interior.
President Biden’s move to uphold US environmental commitment, will help restore balance on public lands and waters, create jobs, and provide a path to align the management of America’s public lands and waters with the nation’s climate, conservation, and clean energy goals, the Department of the Interior has stated.
The department said it would engage diverse stakeholders across the country, as well as conduct formal consultation with tribes in recognition of the US government’s trust responsibilities.
The Executive Order will direct a pause on new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands and offshore waters, concurrent with a comprehensive review of the federal oil and gas programme. The targeted pause does not impact existing operations or permits for valid, existing leases, which are continuing to be reviewed and approved. The order does not restrict energy activities on private or state lands, or lands that the United States holds in trust or restricted status for tribes or individual Indians.
The President’s action will provide a chance to review the federal oil and gas programme to ensure that it serves the public interest and to restore balance on America’s public lands and waters to benefit current and future generations.
Fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all US greenhouse gas emissions.
“Irresponsible leasing of public lands and waters impacts communities’ access to clean air, clean water, and outdoor recreation; carves up important wildlife habitat; and threatens cultural and sacred sites,” the department points out in a release.
Multiple bills in Congress have been introduced in recent years to reform the outdated programme, including those to better ensure the public is not shut out of land management and leasing decisions; to address the mounting cleanup and remediation costs of orphan wells scattered across the country; and to provide a fair return to taxpayers for the use of their resources, it adds.
The oil and gas industry has stockpiled millions of acres of leases on public lands and waters.
Onshore, of the more than 26 million acres under lease to the oil and gas industry, nearly 13.9 million (or 53 per cent) of those acres are unused and non-producing.
Offshore, of the more than 12 million acres of public waters under lease, over 9.3 million (or 77 per cent) of those acres are unused and non-producing.
Onshore and offshore, the oil and gas industry is sitting on approximately 7,700 unused, approved permits to drill.
The Trump administration conducted a fire sale of public lands and waters, offering more than 25 million acres onshore during the past four years, 5.6 million of which were purchased. Offshore, more than 78 million acres were offered for lease to oil, gas, and mineral development offshore, and only 5 million acres were purchased.
Renewable energy to help create jobs
As part of President Biden’s efforts to `Build Back Better’ and pursue a clean energy future, the administration has committed to making investments to create millions of family-supporting and union jobs in clean energy generation, land restoration, abandoned mine cleanup, plugging of orphan oil and gas wells, energy efficiency, clean transportation, advanced manufacturing, and sustainable agriculture across America.
The Executive Order will call for the interior department to identify steps to accelerate responsible development of renewable energy on public lands and waters, including setting a goal to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. Accordingly, the department proposes to immediately begin a review of processes and procedures to date as it re-invests in a rigorous renewable energy programme.
It also calls for the establishment of a new Climate Conservation Corps Initiative to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.
Conserving land and oceans
The Executive Action will require the interior department to outline steps to achieve the President’s commitment to conserve at least 30 per cent each of America’s lands and waters by the year 2030, as recommended by scientists, in order to safeguard health, food supplies, biodiversity, and the prosperity of every community.
The department said it would undertake the process with broad engagement, including agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, outdoor enthusiasts, sovereign tribal nations, states, territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that reflect the priorities of all communities.
The Biden administration proposes to achieve this 30x30 goal by supporting local, state, private, and tribally led nature conservation and restoration efforts that are underway across America. Over the coming months, the department plans to evaluate how to best measure and assess the country’s progress toward the 30x30 goal, to properly account for the many innovative and effective ways that communities are conserving their lands and waters for current and future generations. Interior will consider ways to achieve more equitable access to nature and its benefits for all people in America, it added.
“Approximately 60 per cent of land in the continental US is in a natural state, but we are losing a football field worth of it every 30 seconds. The decline of nature threatens wildlife; across the globe, approximately one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades, including one-third of US wildlife,” says the interior.