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BILLINGS, Mont. — Approvals for companies to drill for oil and gas on U.S. public lands are on pace this year to reach their highest level since George W. Bush was president, underscoring President Joe Biden’s reluctance to more forcefully curb petroleum production in the face of industry and Republican resistance.
The Interior Department approved about 2,500 permits to drill on public and tribal lands in the first six months of the year, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. That includes more than 2,100 drilling approvals since Biden took office January 20.
New Mexico and Wyoming had the largest number of approvals. Montana, Colorado and Utah had hundreds each.
Biden campaigned last year on pledges to end new drilling on federal lands to rein in climate-changing emissions. His pick to oversee those lands, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, adamantly opposed drilling on federal lands while in Congress and co-sponsored the liberal Green New Deal.
At one of the Democratic primary debates, Biden misspoke when he addressed the subject, saying that if he became president, there would be “no more — no new — fracking.” Biden’s campaign quickly corrected his mistake.
Biden’s actual position, which he frequently states, is that he would ban new gas and oil permits — including fracking — on federal lands only. The vast majority of oil and gas does not come from federal lands.
He’s hewed closely to that middle-of-the-road position, going so far as to tell an anti-fracking activist that he “ought to vote for somebody else” if he was in a hurry to see fracking abolished.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, opened up a yearslong oil and gas boom in parts of the Southwest, High Plains and Northeast — including battleground Pennsylvania. The technique went into widespread use during the Obama-Biden administration.
Some liberal Democrats wish Biden were taking a tougher line against fracking now. But he isn’t.
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