Fact Check: Joe Biden – President Joe Biden flip-flopped on allowing new oil and gas drilling on federal lands

Fact Check: Joe Biden – President Joe Biden flip-flopped on allowing new oil and gas drilling on federal lands

As he campaigned for president in 2020, Joe Biden responded to a New Hampshire town hall question unequivocally, adding repetition for emphasis.

“No more drilling on federal lands,” he said Feb. 9, 2020. “Period. Period. Period. Period.”

Biden repeated his stance a month later, saying at a presidential primary debate: “No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends.” 

Three years later, the Biden administration disappointed supporters of his climate change policy by approving a major drilling project in Alaska. 

The March 13 decision allows ConocoPhillips to drill up to 199 wells for oil and gas in the Willow Reservoir in the North Slope of Alaska.

Houston-based ConocoPhillips processes, refines and markets crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products. The Willow project, which is expected to last 30 years, will be done mostly on federal lands.

We are putting Biden’s statements about drilling on federal lands  on PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter, which measures the extent to which a politician flips position on an issue, without making a judgment call about those changes.

ConocoPhillips’ plans 

ConocoPhillips estimated that the Willow project will create 2,500 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, and produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day (about 1.5% of total U.S. oil production), and about 600 million barrels over 30 years.

Two dozen environmental groups issued a statement condemning Biden’s decision, claiming the project would release 239 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. On March 14, six environmental groups sued the Biden administration to stop the project.

A vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is driven by greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by human activity.

ConocoPhillips first obtained a lease to drill in federal lands in the Willow area in 1999. 

So, Biden didn’t approve a new lease, but he allowed ConocoPhillips to proceed with its Willow project.

The Biden administration defended its decision to media outlets and to PolitiFact by saying that the leases are essentially contracts, and that refusing to allow the Willow drilling could trigger legal action resulting in fines on the government.

John Leshy, the Interior Department’s top lawyer during the Clinton administration, told PolitiFact that politics likely influenced Biden’s decision more than potential fines, given bipartisan support for the drilling project among Alaska elected officials.

The White House issued no statement on Biden’s decision.

The Interior Department issued a statement March 13 emphasizing that the administration reduced Willow’s scope. That included rejecting two of the five proposed drill sites and requiring ConocoPhillips to give up about 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the area.

On March 12, the department announced that Biden designated 2.8 million acres of sea in the Arctic Ocean near the Willow project as off-limits for oil and gas leasing. 

PolitiFact is tracking Biden’s campaign promises; Biden’s pledge to block new fracking on federal lands rates Promise Broken. In April, his administration announced it would resume onshore oil and gas lease sales on public lands. As a practical matter, any wells that are drilled are likely to use fracking, which injects water, sand and chemicals into bedrock to extract underground oil or gas.

Our ruling

As a presidential candidate, Biden said: “No more drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period. Period.”

As president, he approved a proposal to drill up to 199 wells for oil and gas on federal land in Alaska. The project is expected to last about 30 years. 

We rate his complete change in position a Full Flop.

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Source: PolitiFact.

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