Nov 29, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Environmentalists slam Biden admin's oil and gas auctions during COP28

Antelope graze near oil and gas wells on Jonah Field near Pinedale, Wyoming.

Antelope graze near oil and gas wells on Jonah Field near Pinedale, Wyoming. Photo: Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Environmental groups criticized the Biden administration's $3.4 million auction of oil and gas drilling rights in Wyoming on Tuesday as world leaders prepare to meet in Dubai for the COP28 climate summit.

The big picture: The 37 parcels of land covering some 35,000 acres was the first of 63 drilling parcels the Interior Department's U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planned to sell across 44,000 acres in six Western states over the next two weeks.

  • In addition to Wyoming, auctions will take place in New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah. The last auction is due to take place on Dec. 12 — the final day of COP28.

What they're saying: "Instead of doing the necessary work to fight climate change, Biden continues to support the expansion of fossil fuels here in the U.S.," Nicole Ghio, senior fossil fuels program manager for Friends of the Earth, said in a statement to media.

  • Ghio said the Wyoming sales marked the latest in a series of disappointments from President Biden's administration, per the Washington Examiner.

Between the lines: Biden has made tackling climate change a key part of his administration's national security strategy and he pledged to move away from fossil fuels. But Axios' Ben Geman notes he's faced a delicate balancing act on drilling.

Zoom in: Biden signed into law last year key legislation that included measures to combat climate change under the Inflation Reduction Act. But it tethers the White House priority of offshore wind development to oil and gas offerings following demands from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose vote was key in the bill's success.

Meanwhile, oil industry and Republican officials have criticized Biden for holding back future production.

Of note: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that in its decision on Willow, the administration was "following the science and the law when it comes to everything we do, and that includes gas and oil" lease considerations.

  • The Interior Department issued 527 leases in total in the fiscal years of 2021 and 2022, according to BLM data. The Trump administration issued 2,740 during the previous two years.

What we're watching: Biden is not scheduled to attend COP28, but he is sending top U.S. officials to the climate conference — where environmental groups and some world leaders are pushing for a COP28 deal to phase out fossil fuel.

  • This is likely to face fierce opposition at the conference — notably from China, the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases, which has already ruled out adopting such language in an agreement.
  • Representatives for the Biden administration did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Go deeper: Major UN report blasts "doubling down" on oil, gas and coal ahead of COP28

Go deeper