Despite previous climate pledges, President Biden is restarting oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands in hopes to drive down energy prices. 

The Biden administration is set to resume onshore sales of oil and natural gas drilling leases on federal public lands to help alleviate the pressures of soaring gasoline prices driven by the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The announcement by the Interior Department, made late Friday before the Easter weekend, will see roughly 144,000 acres available for oil and gas drilling through a series of lease sales, which is 80% less than what was initially proposed. Companies are also required to pay royalties of 18.75% of the value of extracted oil and gas products, up from 12.5%.

“Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations,” said the US interior secretary Deb Haaland.

However, the newly-announced plan marks the end of a moratorium on new leases imposed by President Joe Biden in one of his earliest acts in office and breaking a pledge he made during his campaign, undermining his overall plan to combat the climate crisis

In February 2020 at a campaign event in Hudson, New Hampshire, Biden promised the audience “no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”

The US government has been facing increasing public pressure to address the climbing energy prices following the economic sanctions in response to the Russia-Ukraine war. Recent national average prices of gasoline reached up to USD$4.07 a gallon, which is more than 70% higher than it was in January of 2021 when Biden took office. 

The president has attempted various measures to drive energy prices down including an unprecedented release of 180 millinewton barrels of crude from the government’s strategic stockpiles. But with the US midterm elections coming up in November, the Democrats are in a vulnerable position.

Environments have already come out and criticised the decision, calling out Biden for backtracking his climate promises. “The Biden administration’s claim that it must hold these lease sales is pure fiction and a reckless failure of climate leadership,” said Randi Spivak, the public lands director for The Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s as if they’re ignoring the horror of firestorms, floods and megadroughts, and accepting climate catastrophes as business as usual.”

In fact, analysts from the Financial Times claim that since oil and gas production from public onshore lands makes up less than 10% of total US output, restarting leases will take months if not years to yield new output. The plan will therefore hardly make a dent in global energy prices. Likewise, economists say that the higher royalty rate proposed in the plan will barely have any impact on global greenhouse gas emissions when companies can easily find fuel elsewhere, according to the Guardian.