Biden Admin Says It's Approved More Oil Drilling Permits Than the Trump Admin. Its Own Data Show Otherwise.

Biden admin continues to 'mislead the public for their own political gain,' GOP spokesman says

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
June 24, 2024

The Biden administration has approved more than 1,000 fewer oil permits in its first three years than the Trump administration did in the same timeframe, according to internal Interior Department documents reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. Those documents directly contradict the drilling permit data the agency has shared with the public, which environmental groups have used to argue for more restrictive federal oil and gas policies.

The nonpublic documents, shared with the House Natural Resources Committee by the Interior Department and reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, indicate the Trump administration approved far more drilling permits than Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) online database gives it credit for. And it represents the latest example of the Biden administration appearing to publish inaccurate data that have, in turn, been used as evidence of it being friendlier than expected to the oil and gas industry.

"From the beginning, the Biden administration has waged a war on domestic energy producers. Despite claims to the contrary, his administration has not permitted more oil and gas drilling permits than the previous administration," a House Natural Resources Committee spokesman told the Free Beacon. "Despite having the worst leasing records in U.S. history, the Department of the Interior has attempted to take credit for record oil and gas production which is occurring on lands leased under previous administrations."

"Even more unsettling, the Department is providing different data to journalists than to Congress," the spokesman continued. "These kinds of discrepancies are troubling, but like a bad ex-boyfriend, this administration continues to gaslight and mislead the public for their own political gain."

BLM's public online data portal shows that, in 2023, the Biden administration approved 3,377 applications for permits to drill on federal lands, 25 percent more than the 2,507 applications the Trump administration approved in its third year. That flurry of permit approvals, according to the data, brought the Biden administration's three-year total to 9,522 approved permits, significantly more than the 6,541 it says the Trump administration approved in its first three years.

The data were first cited by Politico in a January article titled, "Biden administration oil drilling permits outpace Trump." The story quoted Jeremy Nichols, a senior advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, who said the data show the administration "needs to pump the brakes" on additional drilling permits.

And BLM's database was cited by Yahoo News in January 2023 to show the Biden administration granted more oil and gas drilling permits in its first two years than the Trump administration did in the same timeframe.

But the internal documents obtained by the House Natural Resources Committee show that, in the two-year time span between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019 alone, the Trump administration approved 6,569 permits to drill. That's larger than the three-year figure published in BLM's database and cited by Politico.

During the three-year time span between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2020, the Trump administration approved 10,795 permits to drill, far more than the online database indicates it did and more than the 9,522 the Biden administration approved in its first three years.

"The BLM believes the application for permit to drill numbers shared with the House Natural Resources Committee are correct and consistent with [the statistics] posted on the BLM's website," a BLM spokesman told the Free Beacon.

The spokesman added that the agency couldn't vouch for the data from the Politico report in January. And he noted the "online reporting tool can be interpreted in various ways."

BLM's online system was undergoing a system outage at the time of this report.

In February 2023, meanwhile, BLM quietly revised separate figures, lowering the number of unused fossil fuel drilling permits it had approved. The agency changed that number from 9,000 unused permits to less than 6,700, blaming the error on a Trump-era technical change.

The change came after President Biden, White House officials, and Interior officials repeatedly referred to the 9,000 figure to prove fossil fuel companies have the ability to quickly produce oil and gas on federal lands, and to push back on criticism of the administration's climate agenda.

Shortly after Biden took office, as part of his aggressive effort to reduce the nation's carbon emissions, he signed an executive order pausing all oil and gas lease sales on public lands and waters.

The administration then resumed its onshore leasing program on a limited basis in June 2022 in response to a court order striking down the leasing moratorium. And, late last year, it finalized a congressionally mandated plan for future offshore sales after months of delays.

Kathleen Sgamma, the president of the oil industry group Western Energy Alliance, told the Free Beacon the fact that the Biden administration's rate of permitting is even close to the Trump administration's rate exemplifies the barriers for oil producers persists "no matter how much one administration wants to do more, and no matter how much another wants to do less."

"Our operators are habitually held up by slow leasing and permitting, with leasing particularly affecting out years," she said. "The full impact of the Biden administration’s slowdown on leasing won’t be seen in permitting numbers until subsequent years out."