Biden just canceled plans to open up massive new oil drilling operations

A small win for the environment.

US President Joe Biden walks to Marine One prior to departing from the South Lawn of the White House...
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In Alaska, there is a 180-mile stretch of watershed known as the Cook Inlet. For nearly five years, about 1 million acres of land off the shore of this area, which stretches from the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage and is home to several endangered species, were up for auction — available for gas companies to bid on and use to drill for oil. That is no longer the case. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it will not go forward with any sales in the region.

The Cook Inlet isn’t the only area that will be saved from oil exploration and exploitation. The Gulf of Mexico, which also had huge swaths of land up for sale, has had some of its plots pulled from the auction block by the Interior Department. This follows a recent court decision that invalidated a lease in the Gulf of Mexico that was sold by the Biden administration over environmental concerns.

The good news is this means millions of acres of land will no longer be available for the highest bidder. Offshore drilling has a habit of being destructive to the environment. It produces oil that is burned and creates emissions that heat the planet, feeding our fossil fuel addiction, and it produces lots of pollution in both the air and water that is harmful to humans, animals, and plant life — and that’s assuming there is no spillage.

The bad news is that in the scheme of things, these are just a few plots of land that the federal government has decided not to monetize. The Biden administration has listed more than 80 million acres of land for sale, including holding the largest oil lease auction in the country’s history last year. Deciding not to move forward with sales of land in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico may be signals that Biden is choosing to cut down on allowing federal land to be exploited — something he promised during his campaign in 2020 — but it hardly makes his White House a beacon of principled land management.

Biden’s call to cancel these particular plots has conservatives up in arms. They cite the timing of the decision as being particularly bad — oil prices are at a record high, and the world is trying to ween itself off Russian oil in response to the country’s ongoing attack on sovereign Ukraine. Fact is, though, oil companies weren’t exactly rushing to start drilling in these areas. Auctions in the same region have previously been canceled in 2006, 2008, and 2010, according to The Hill, all because there was so little interest in it.

On top of that, there are already 9.3 million acres of land that have been sold to oil companies that have yet to be tapped. If they wanted to be drilling, they would. They don’t need new land to do it. Instead, it seems like the companies are content to rack up record profits while refusing to actually increase production. Oh, and before anyone claims it’s environmental regulations keeping these companies from drilling more: A survey of oil producers found that just 11% cited environmental concerns. Meanwhile, 60% cited investors demanding big returns and no new spending as the main reason they aren’t drilling more. If the greenhouse emissions don’t kill us, surely the greed will.