When I saw this headline at the Wall Street Journal today announcing a lawsuit against the Biden administration involving drilling permits, I assumed it would be coming from the oil and gas industry. After all, Biden has canceled multiple sales of permits during the first year of his presidency in violation of congressional orders and he has been successfully sued over it before. But this turned out to be essentially the opposite situation. After Biden finally agreed to hold the required auctions, a group of environmentalists is now suing the White House for doing what they’re legally required to do. It almost makes you feel sorry for Joe Biden. The guy can’t seem to win for losing.
Environmental groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday, saying that its decision to approve more than 3,500 oil and natural-gas drilling permits in New Mexico and Wyoming violated environmental laws by not taking into account the impact on climate change.
In their lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the conservation nonprofits Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians say the approved oil and gas wells will release as much as 600 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions, worsening climate change and damaging U.S. ecosystems.
The federal permitting agency “has admitted that continued oil and gas exploitation is a significant cause of the climate crisis, yet the agency continues to recklessly issue thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits,” said Kyle Tisdel, climate and energy program director with the Western Environmental Law Center, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nonprofits.
As the linked report points out, this seems to be a largely rhetorical effort. The groups are asking the court to declare the permits to be “unlawfully granted,” but they are not asking them to order a halt to drilling on those lands. The plaintiffs appear to be seeking a moral victory without risking a demand that they clearly understand the courts would never grant. Winning a case where you are demanding that the President violate the law is pretty much a non-starter.
If you’re wondering how this lawsuit might affect oil and gas supplies and energy prices, you can put that out of your mind. It won’t have any impact, at least not for a couple of years at the soonest. Even if the permits are eventually denied, that won’t impact the total flow of energy for quite some time. When a permit is granted, the energy company that holds it first has to do surveys to determine how productive the site might be. Then they have to schedule rigs to be moved into the area to commence work. In most cases, it will be anywhere from three to five years before any serious amount of oil begins to flow.
We’re also talking about a relatively small, though important percentage of the total drilling that takes place. Barely 10% of the oil that’s produced in the United States come from federal lands. The lion’s share is taken from state lands or private property leases. Far more damage is done by states like New York where moratoriums on all new drilling have been put in place.
As we’ve discussed here previously, the country is in the midst of multiple energy crisis situations. We are facing critical shortages of diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. Working to undermine our ability to produce additional oil and gas will only lengthen and exacerbate the problem. I will confidently predict that these environmental groups are going to face plunging levels of public support when people start getting hit with rolling blackouts and gas stations that close their doors because their storage tanks are empty.