Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Lawsuit launched over delay on petition to phase out oil drilling on public lands
Signed by more than 360 climate, Tribal, religious and conservation groups, the January 2022 petition provides a policy framework for managing the decline of federal oil and gas production to near zero by 2035. Research published since the petition was filed shows that developed countries must end oil and gas extraction by 2034 to avoid the harms of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.
“Biden’s approval of the climate-killing Willow project shows how desperately we need rules cracking down on runaway oil and gas extraction on public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The climate deadline to end oil and gas extraction in the U.S. is 2034, and the natural place to start is on land the federal government controls. It’s pathetic that legal action is needed to force the administration to act.”
Despite campaign promises to end new oil and gas drilling and leasing on public land, the Biden administration has expanded leasing under the Inflation Reduction Act, approved the massive Willow project in the western Arctic, and issued more public-lands drilling permits in its first two years than the Trump administration.
The Biden administration has failed to enact policies that align federal fossil fuel leasing, permitting or production with decline curves necessary to avoid the catastrophic consequences of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Far from living up to his promise to protect the climate, President Biden is actually undermining his commitment to the American public to end fossil fuel leasing,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “We can’t frack our way to a safe climate. This lawsuit aims to ensure President Biden’s administration heeds the reality that we need to transition the United States away from both the consumption and production of oil and gas.”
Federal data shows that the Biden administration approved 6,430 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years, outpacing the Trump administration’s first-two-year total. More than half those permits were in the Permian Basin, where per-well emissions are among the highest in the U.S. and where permitting accelerated from 2021 to 2022.
“It’s tragic that climate chaos has raged on Biden’s watch,” said Hallie Templeton, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “People are dying, sea levels are rising, and we are rapidly reaching the point of no return. Interior’s delay on our petition to phase down fossil fuel extraction and development is not only unreasonable, it is simply unacceptable. We hope that our lawsuit clears the administration’s apparent apathy and spurs the urgent action that this code-red moment calls for.”
The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to initiate rulemaking or provide a substantive response to rulemaking petitions within a reasonable timeframe. Today’s notice says the administration’s failure to respond to the petition is unreasonable because of the urgency of the climate crisis.
Avoiding heating the planet beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius requires ending new investment in fossil fuel projects and phasing out production to keep as much as 40% of already developed fossil fuel fields in the ground. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden called climate change “an existential threat to human existence” and pledged to cut U.S. emissions by up to 51% over the next nine years.
Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.
Oil, gas and coal extraction uses mines, well pads, gas lines, roads and other infrastructure that destroys habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species. Oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling have done immense damage to ocean wildlife and coastal communities. Fracking and mining also pollute watersheds and waterways that provide drinking water to millions of people.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to industry contain up to 43 billion tons.