C: Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley

When running for office, Joe Biden made a heartfelt campaign video talking about how the only way his grandchildren will fulfill their potential is if the U.S takes “drastic action right now” to address our climate emergency.

“Science tells us that how we act or fail to act in the next twelve years will determine the very livability of our planet,” says Biden looking straight to camera.

On the campaign trail, Biden said: “No more drilling on federal lands. Period. Period. Period.” The message was simple: here was a candidate apparently willing to take action on climate.

The video was made when the climate-denying President Trump was still President, and not turning himself into a New York courthouse. In the time since Biden’s campaign statements, the warnings on the need to act faster on climate change have only gotten stronger.

Two weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report that reiterated the need to take radical action right now to address our climate emergency.

The report was approved during a week-long session in Interlaken, Switzerland. One of those present during the week was Lili Fuhr, Deputy Director of the Centre for International Environmental Law. She tweeted a thread about the major takeaways from the meeting.

As she says, proven and readily available solutions do exist, including fossil fuel phase-out. Joe Biden knows this too. But instead of enacting a fossil fuel phase-out, Biden inexplicably is doing the opposite.

Last week, his administration offered up a staggering 73.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration. For anyone wondering how large that is — it’s the size of Italy. The administration also announced that the lease sale, Number 259, had generated USD 263 million from 32 companies.

This matters so much — for four reasons:

Firstly, although Biden has broken his pre-election promise before by offering up new leases in Gulf, such as in November 2021 when 80 million acres were auctioned off, this could be the first Gulf of Mexico lease sale under the Biden administration that actually results in new drilling.

Secondly, these leases will lock in the extraction of oil and gas for decades, and potentially the next fifty years, at the same time when scientists agree we need to stop drilling now. It is quite clear that new oil and gas fields are “incompatible” with the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C warming. Anything above 1.5 degrees will result in climate chaos.

The Guardian, when reporting on the lease sale called it the “latest blow to Joe Biden’s increasingly frayed reputation on dealing with the climate crisis.” It is worth remembering that these auctions come just two weeks after Biden’s administration approved the controversial Willow project. But, as CNN noted, the area in the Gulf of Mexico up for auction is double the acreage of the Alaska Willow project.

The third reason is how polluting and carbon-intensive offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is. A new scientific paper, published yesterday in the PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has concluded that government inventories of methane and carbon dioxide underestimate the amount of gases which are released in the Gulf of Mexico.

The scientists spent 10 days doing airborne surveys of more than 50 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in 2020. And what they found was alarming: they revealed a climate impact twice as large as that estimated by government inventories, largely driven by high levels of methane, the potent greenhouse gas.

The scientists concluded that methane emissions from oil and gas operations were a staggering 600,000 tonnes, meaning that methane levels were three times that of official inventories in federal waters and thirteen times higher in state waters.

The study’s co-author, Alan Gorchov Negron, from the University of Michigan, told CNN that the study’s findings may be particularly pertinent as “the Gulf of Mexico is on the eve of a series of expansions in production.”

And despite Biden’s pledge to stop drilling on federal lands, there are now a further 10 lease sales planned between today and 2028.

Athan Manuel, from the Sierra Club, added “the Biden administration should take this alarming data seriously and protect our climate and communities by putting an end to all new leasing in the Gulf.”

Finally, the fourth reason. Biden’s campaign video was part of a wider campaign on the need for a “clean energy revolution and environmental justice.” Offshore drilling does not just have impacts offshore. The oil makes its way to be refined in the notorious “Cancer Alley,” the 130-mile stretch along the Mississippi River, where belching, polluting refineries impact the local, predominantly poor, Black communities. Local residents in Cancer Alley have long been at the forefront of the campaign for environmental justice.

And the bottom line for Biden, is that by approving lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, he is directly impacting the health of the local residents of Cancer Alley. Earlier this year, a scientific paper published in the journal Environmental Challenges found that industrial emissions in Louisiana are already seven to 21 times higher in communities of color compared to white communities. This is without further pollution. The UN has called on the U.S. to stop further industrialization of Cancer Alley, saying that environmental racism must end.

So Biden is ripping up his commitment to environmental justice and is continuing the injustices and racism of the past — and is failing the people who need him most to stand up to Big Oil and say simply: it is time for no more drilling on federal lands. Just like Biden promised.