More than a year ago, President Biden directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to pause all new oil and gas leasing on public lands while the agency conducted a comprehensive review of its outdated oil and gas program. The leasing pause was part of a broader executive order meant to address the climate crisis and represented a much needed pivot away from the prior administration’s relentless assault on our public lands.
Immediately after the president ordered the leasing pause, the state of Utah and pro-drilling groups such as the Western Energy Alliance launched an aggressive campaign claiming the pause would have devastating effects on Utah’s rural economy. These doomsday predictions were wildly inaccurate.
Now, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the calls for more public land leasing and development have grown louder. But the clamor for more extraction is a thinly a veiled attempt by fossil fuel interests to profit from the ongoing conflict. It is also based on a false premise: that more public land leasing will lead to more drilling and production, which in turn will lower the price of oil and natural gas.
Most oil and gas drilling in Utah and across the United States takes place on state and private lands, not public lands. And on public lands, operators have stockpiled millions of acres of unused leases and more than 9,000 unused (but approved) drilling permits (see our recent blog post for more on this).
The war in Ukraine has made it clear that the world needs to become significantly less, not more, reliant on fossil fuels. Meanwhile, climate scientists are speaking in one unified voice and telling us in no uncertain terms that if we continue drilling, transporting, and burning fossil fuels we are risking everything.
For far too long the BLM has wrongly elevated oil and gas leasing and development as the primary use of our nation’s public lands, threatening our climate, wild places, cultural heritage, and the continued existence of thousands of species. This unbalanced approach must stop now. Our wild places—and the climate crisis—demand no less.