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Biden's Ban On New Oil Leases Churns Up Age-Old Louisiana Debate On Oil Jobs Vs. The Environment
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
President Biden has issued an executive order to stop all new oil leases on federal lands and waters.

As part of a sweeping slate of climate policies announced Wednesday, the Biden Administration has banned all new oil leases on federal lands and water. Advocates are celebrating the move to curtail carbon emissions, while industry advocates in Louisiana worry it could decimate an already-struggling industry.

Biden’s executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior to stop issuing new oil and gas leases on federal waters and lands and prioritizes the preservation of public lands. He reiterated that the administration does not plan to ban fracking.

Tyler Gray, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association (LMOGA), warned in a press release that limiting energy production on federal lands and waters threatens the state economy.

“The narrative that citizens and policymakers must choose between energy and the environment is fundamentally flawed and we need solutions that protect the environment while encouraging economic growth,” Gray said.

Emma Collin, director of programs at the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP), agreed with Gray.

“We know that Gulf South communities are constantly presented with the false choice between good jobs and a livable environment,” she said. “The Biden Administration's ban on new leases in the Gulf is a huge step in the right direction, and must be paired with deep investment into Gulf South communities that create family-sustaining jobs and advance local control.”

Gray argues that can only be done by preserving the oil and gas industry, rather than turning to renewables.

“It is abundantly clear that limiting energy development will stifle Louisiana’s economic growth and threaten thousands of jobs,” he said.

But some experts said the moratorium may not have a huge impact on Louisiana’s economy for now.

Eric Smith, associate director of Energy Institute at Tulane University, Eric Smith, said western states such as New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — where a lot of drilling takes place on federal lands — will feel the impacts of the moratorium worst. Long-term, he said, it will result in a major decline in production, which will affect Louisiana refineries.

Gray and other industry advocates argue that revenue from fossil fuel extraction and processing in Louisiana is crucial for supporting local tax bases and employment, while environmental advocates like Collin argue for a Green New Deal that includes retraining workers in new fields and employing them in environmental restoration jobs.

Some of these ideas were included in the executive actions Biden signed Wednesday at the White House. Among them are the creation of a national climate task force, establishing a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to create jobs to restore public lands and waters, and investment in more resilient infrastructure in the face of rising seas, increased storms and higher temperatures.

Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade also celebrated the news.

“It's common sense. It's what has to happen if we're to have a livable planet and a good economy,” she said.

She imagines a future in which thousands of workers are employed to cap abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

“From a jobs perspective, what Biden is doing does not limit the industry in any way,” she said.

Smith has seen this happen before, when President Barack Obama put a temporary stop to lease sales after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. 

Smith does not think the Biden lease ban will be permanent, despite the hopes of environmental advocates. He said he expects diplomacy from President Biden.

“I think he will ask for more than you can realistically expect to get, and then he will be magnanimous and come to a compromise,” Smith said.

He expects industry groups to challenge the executive orders in court.

On Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he opposed the ban and would lobby for continued leasing in the Gulf.

This story has been updated with belated comments from Gov. Edwards.
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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