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Biden Is Failing The World – OpEd

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Many people in the U.S. are still unaware of just how dire the situation is in Europe. They have started logging their old-growth forests for wood fuel to stay warm during the winter. You can see in a tweet that just came out today from somebody in Denmark that “people are stealing each other’s wood pellets and their wood briquettes as soon as they’re delivered.” To make matters worse, “There’s constant reports of cars having their tanks drilled and their gas stolen.” Remember, it’s not even winter yet. Winter’s actually over 72 days away. So this is a very serious situation.

You can see that in Poland people are actually burning trash to stay warm. Burning trash in your fireplace creates toxic smoke. It’s hazardous. The government’s considering handing out masks so people can breathe more safely when they’re outdoors. 

Recall that natural gas is the reason the United States reduced its carbon emissions more than any other country in the world. Carbon emissions have been on the decline globally, in large measure, because of the transition from coal to gas. Natural gas is something that most reasonable people agree is a superior fuel to coal. Natural gas is the reason the United States reduced its emissions by 22% between 2005 and 2020, which is five percentage points more than the United States had agreed to reduce our emissions under cap and trade legislation, which nearly passed Congress in 2010 and under the UN Paris Climate Agreement.

The above is a graph that was produced by Matthew Yglesias, a well-known progressive blogger. He tweets it out whenever somebody points out that President Biden isn’t doing all he can to expand oil and gas production. It’s accurate. It does show that oil production increased on a daily average under Biden from under Trump. But it’s deeply misleading. You have to remember that under Trump, the Coronavirus pandemic, for several months, massively slashed oil production.

You can see from the below chart of the EIA data on crude oil production that we still haven’t gotten back to where we were before the pandemic. Now consider how the need is much greater for US oil now that Europe and the United States are rejecting Russian oil. 

The United States is the biggest liquified natural gas exporter, it’s true. But it takes five years to bring online new LNG capacity in the United States. So all of the new LNG that’s come online during Biden’s presidency was due to past presidents.

And Biden has leased less land than any President since World War II. It’s a shockingly small amount of land: 130,000 acres as opposed to seven million acres under Obama, four million acres under Trump, during the first 19 months of their administrations. It’s a huge reduction in the amount of land being leased. 

You can see that in some particular cases, like a very large oil and gas sale in Alaska, the Department of Interior claimed there wasn’t any industry interest in the lease. This turned out not to be the case. The Senator from Alaska, Lisa Markowski said, “I can say with full certainty based on conversations as recently as last night, that Alaska’s industry does have an interest in lease sales and the Cook Inlet to claim otherwise is simply false, not to mention stunningly shortsighted.” 

People point out the oil and gas industry does have many thousands of leases, and that’s true, but there’s a high degree of uncertainty about whether the leases they have will produce oil and gas at levels that make sense economically to produce from.

So increasing oil and gas leasing at a time of an energy crisis in Europe seems like a no-brainer, but the Biden administration is not doing that. In fact, it’s been preventing the expansion of gas in many other ways.

You can see the Biden administration denied a request to have a formaldehyde regulation exempted. All else being equal, you’d wanna reduce that pollution. But I think a little bit of formaldehyde is gonna be a less toxic airborne event than having people breathing toxic wood and plastic smoke in Europe. The right thing to do, in terms of aiding our allies, would be to wave that regulation. But the Biden administration refused. 

You can see that the Biden administration is actively considering forgoing all new offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific. It may do no offshore leases at all for oil and gas.

Instead, the Biden administration has sought to give sanctions relief to Venezuela in the hopes that Venezuela would produce more oil. And of course, most famously Biden went to Saudi Arabia to ask the Saudis to produce more oil in July. Now, everybody agrees that was a huge foreign policy failure. The Saudis announced they would be cutting production with the rest of OPEC+. The Biden administration’s pressure on the Saudis apparently annoyed them. Now, they’ve been pushed closer into the arms of Russia. This is a pretty significant setback for the Biden administration. 

At the same time Biden was going to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to produce more oil. Biden administration was refusing to even meet with oil and gas executives. That’s a pretty serious snub when you consider that it’s an industry you want to expand production.

An oil and gas analyst on Twitter criticized a Senator from Wisconsin for suggesting the Democrats are responsible for the lack of refining capacity. He said, “What — do you also blame a political party for a flat tire?” 

I pointed out that a single oil refinery outage would have little impact if we had sufficient refinery capacity, and the reason we don’t is that politicians, mostly Democrats have used regulations to prevent their construction. When I interviewed executives one said to me, “If you were an oil company, why would you invest hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding refining capacity if you thought the federal government would shut you down in the next few years? The narrative coming out of this administration is absolutely insane.”

So you can see here that refinery capacity was increasing all the way through 2020. It then declined due to the pandemic. And it has not risen since then. When the analyst was asked, why don’t we get more refineries? He clearly didn’t know. Or at least he said he didn’t know. But it’s clear the Biden administration has not wanted more refineries. 

There was a chance to retrofit a major refinery in the US Virgin Islands. It was a refinery that was older. It needed pretty significant upgrades. It was polluting. But these are machines that can be fixed. Several billion dollars of investment would’ve fixed it and it goes back many years. This is an article from 2008. It describes how, at that time, the Democrats in the Senate killed a proposal for refinery expansion.

Go back to 2006. The same thing happened. The House was in the hands of the Republicans who passed a piece of legislation to expand refineries. And it was the Democrats who killed it. And, incidentally, they’re using the exact same arguments today that they used back then. 

More recently, we’ve seen an attack on expanded natural gas pipeline capacity, including from Pennsylvania to the Northeast, particularly to Boston. The result of not having pipeline capacity is that they’ve been burning more oil for electricity in New England. In fact, oil-fired power jumped to a four-year high earlier this year. And they’ve been having to import liquified natural gas to New England rather than just pipe it in, which is significantly cheaper. Probably half as expensive.

Grassroots advocacy and lawsuits have prevented pipelines from being built. You can see there’s a strong correlation between the price of natural gas and the ability to get pipelines built. We stop building pipelines and gas gets more expensive. Globally, the impact is that we’re gonna return to coal. This is the consequence of stifling oil and gas production.

One could argue that we just need more scarcity in order to accelerate the transition to electric cars. But it’s notable that the major figures in this, including President Biden, supporters of President Biden, and representatives of his administration aren’t defending a pro-scarcity position. They’re instead claiming that they’re doing all they can to bring down oil and gas prices and expand production. 

I think this data, and the historical chronology, paint a picture that shows that there has, in fact, been a war on natural gas and oil United States and that it is impacting global supplies, and leaving Europe vulnerable

Michael Shellenberger

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress. Follow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD and at https://michaelshellenberger.substack.com

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