Joe Biden in front of oil pump

Molly Butler/Media Matters | Biden photo via Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

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Right-wing media recycle debunked talking points after Biden cancels ANWR oil and gas leases

After the Biden administration announced that it would cancel seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, right-wing media accused Biden officials of jacking up gas prices, jeopardizing the country’s energy independence, and harming Alaskans. 

  • The cancellation comes years after the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority purchased the leases during the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration, weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021.
  • Companies were hesitant to pursue oil and gas exploration in the refuge to begin with. Besides Alaska’s development agency, only two small companies acquired bids on tracts of land in ANWR to explore for oil and gas — both subsequently let go of these leases after deciding it would be too difficult to pursue exploration. In total, 29 global banks have implemented a policy to decline underwriting oil and gas projects on the refuge, and 18 international insurance companies have said they will not cover development projects in ANWR.
  • Throughout 2022, right-wing media shamelessly bootlicked the fossil fuel industry when gas prices were at record highs. Fox News in particular used debunked talking points to claim the price of oil as a global commodity is controlled by the president, suggesting his climate policies and supposed assaults on the U.S. oil and gas industry are the cause of rising prices at the pump. 
  • Now, right-wing media were quick to misleadingly connect the cancellation of the leases in ANWR to a recent spike in the price of gas affecting some states in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told CNN that the canceled leases would “not at all” hurt consumers in the future, explaining that pushback on the decision is “primarily about optics.”
  • FALSE CLAIM: Canceling the leases in the ANWR has caused gas prices to rise

    • Former Trump State Department spokesperson and Fox contributor Morgan Ortagus: “President Biden just canceled crucial oil and gas leases in Alaska. … It makes us more beholden to our enemies, actually hurts the environment, and increases the pain we feel at the pump.” [Twitter/X, 9/9/23]
    • Conspiracy theory account Wall Street Apes wrote: “As The Globalists Controlling The Joe Biden Administration Announced They Were Cancelling More Of Our Oil Leases Yesterday To Drive Up Prices & Push More People To Electric, The Mainstream Media Is Now Saying To Brace For $10 Per Gallon Gas.” [Twitter/X, 9/9/23]
    • Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington shared and quoted an article from The Conservative Treehouse claiming: “There’s no other way to look at the timing here, other than to accept this is Joe Biden intentionally driving up the cost of domestic energy in the U.S. and creating as much pain as possible.” [Twitter/X, 9/8/23]
    • Fox Business host Jackie DeAngelis said that canceling the leases was a “direct gut punch to Americans that are out there suffering right now as a result of high inflation, high gas prices … oil prices almost $87 a barrel, most certainly we’re going to see these prices go up.” [Fox News, America Reports, 9/7/23]
    • Fox Business correspondent Edward Lawrence reported that “experts are saying” that the cancellation of the leases is driving up oil prices. “If we’re curtailing supply does that mean prices go up?” host Stuart Varney asked. Lawrence then claimed, “Yeah, and that’s what we’re going to see, that’s what experts are saying. This is yet another signal by the Biden administration that there should be no more investment in the oil and natural gas industry. That message is being received in the form of higher prices.” [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 9/7/23]
    • Fox Business host Elizabeth MacDonald asked whether Biden “really wants $10 gas? I mean is he president of? Is he president of us or his climate change political donor base, because now we’re going to have to import more oil.” [Fox Business, The Evening Edit, 9/7/23]
    • On Your World with Neil Cavuto, former Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore said that “drilling American oil” would “completely neutralize” oil prices. Moore said: “If we had just stuck with the Trump policy on drilling American oil, we would be producing 3 million more barrels a day and that would completely neutralize what OPEC is trying to do in terms of rais[ing] oil prices around the world.” Fox anchor Sandra Smith then claimed that fossil fuel exploration is done “safely” and “cleanly.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 9/7/23]
    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce said Biden canceled the leases because “they want people to drive less, and having gas prices be high, they figure, is going to do that.” “When you cut those leases, it signals to everyone that, you know, you are not really serious about making sure we are energy independent,” Bruce said. “You think those polls are bad now? Gasoline will continue and it is going up again. So will home heating oil prices.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 9/7/23]
    • OAN host Monica Rodriguez said canceling the leases proves that Biden doesn’t care “about working class Americans” because this “will only raise prices at the pump.” Her guest, climate denier Marc Morano later said, “This is a devastating blow to the equity agenda, because it’s poor minorities, senior citizens on fixed income, who will pay the highest percentage of the income for higher energy costs.” [OAN, In Focus, 9/7/23]
    • Hitting multiple right-wing media talking point about the canceled leases, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) said the move would “destroy good-paying energy jobs, decrease our energy security, and exacerbate high fuel costs for Americans.” [Twitter/X, 9/7/23]
  • FACT: The recent increase in gas prices is the result of a combination of factors, including OPEC oil production cuts and refinery outages caused by extreme heat

    • The price of domestic gas is tied to the global price of crude oil, and the market has tightened. At the beginning of September, both Saudi Arabia and Russia announced that they would be extending oil production cuts (1 million and 300,000 barrels per day, respectively) through the end of the year. [Reuters, 9/5/23]
    • Heat-related refinery outages over this summer also impacted gas prices. In July, six refineries in Louisiana and Texas experienced heat-related outages. These states supply gas to “every part of the country except California and Colorado,” causing widespread issues. According to Reuters, “A slew of refinery problems has prevented distillate fuel inventories from growing, as they typically do during the summer. … Overall, unplanned outages in June averaged about 550,000 bpd, nearly double June 2022's unscheduled shutdown.” [Spectrum News 1, 7/28/23; Reuters, 7/25/23]
    • Experts warn flooding and hurricanes could send gas prices even higher, and the Atlantic hurricane season is far from over. With fuel inventories already low, Citigroup analysts note that “two Category 3 or higher hurricanes landing on US shores could massively disrupt supplies for not weeks but months.” [CNN, 8/29/23]
  • FALSE CLAIM: Canceling the leases in ANWR will further diminish U.S. energy independence

    • Fox Business host and former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Biden is “giving OPEC+ higher oil prices,” while Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) claimed the decision will “give up America's energy independence.” “OPEC cuts production or extends its production. That’s Iran, Venezuela, along with the Saudis and the Russians, and Joe Biden's response, sir, is to freeze drilling in Alaska and to freeze drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” Kudlow said. “Biden, I mean, I don’t know which side he’s on. … Now he’s giving OPEC+ higher oil prices.” Kudlow later agreed with Kennedy, who said, “As best I can tell by his deeds if not his words, the president's new energy policy in terms of fossil fuels is look, let's give up America's energy independence.” [Fox Business, Kudlow, 9/12/23]
    • Fox News contributor Liz Peek wrote in an op-ed for The Hill that the decision was “unimaginable” and Biden’s “war on fossil fuels has handed pricing power back to Saudi Arabia, which cut production to raise prices.” Peek wrote, “Joe Biden and his climate zealots believe that reducing U.S. oil and gas production will save the planet. It is an idiotic premise.” [The Hill, 9/8/23]
    • Newsmax host Eric Bolling said, “Biden would rather rely on foreign countries — some very radical countries with unstable governments — for our oil supply.” “Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Mexico, and, most concerning of all, the OPEC oil cartel that accounts for nearly half of U. S. oil supplies. Under Trump a mere two and a half, three years ago, we were 100% self-sufficient in oil completely,” Bolling said. [Newsmax, Eric Bolling The Balance, 9/7/23]
    • Appearing on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Kudlow said the move to end “the Trump leases in ANWR” would make the U.S. more “reliant” on other countries. “Instead of [being] energy dominant, we are reliant on the Saudis, on our dear friends in Russia, on our dear friends in Venezuela, on our dear friends in Iran,” Kudlow said. “I mean, you tell me — gasoline prices nationwide are moving back toward $4. Out in the West they are well over $5. In the Northeast, they are close to $5. This stuff was $2 and 10 or 20 cents two and a half years ago. This is all because of something called climate change and the Green New Deal.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 9/7/23]
    • Conservative judicial activist Mike Davis: “Biden escalates his War on American Energy. He wants Americans dependent on Chinese batteries and windmills. China invested very well in the Biden family.” [Twitter/X, 9/6/23]
  • FACT: The U.S. still exports more energy than it imports without developing the canceled ANWR leases, meeting one popular definition of “energy independence”

    • The White House is not phasing out fossil fuels. In March, “the Biden administration approved the Willow Project, a highly contentious $6 billion proposal from ConocoPhillips to drill for oil and gas in Alaska.” Over three decades, the project is expected to produce roughly 600 million barrels of oil. [Media Matters, 3/15/23]
    • Gasbuddy’s Patrick DeHaan: “Energy independence update: US oil production currently stands 43% higher than it was in January 2017. It's also 16% higher compared to January 2021 and 5% higher than January 2023.” [Twitter/X, 9/9/23]
    • According to the Energy Information Administration, “total U.S. energy exports in 2022 were the highest on record.” “Total energy exports exceeded total energy imports by about 5.94 quads [quadrillion British thermal units], the largest margin on record.” By one popular definition, that would make the U.S. more “energy independent” than ever. [EIA, 8/9/23; Forbes, 5/2/23]
    • The U.S. imports oil because it makes economic and logistical sense, not because we are not “energy independent.” According to Forbes, “the type of energy we import (e.g., crude oil) is a better fit for our energy systems than the energy we produce ourselves. For example, U.S. refineries are well-suited to process heavy, sour crude oils.” In some parts of the country, such as the East Coast, international imports can also be cheaper. [EIA, accessed 9/14/23; Forbes 5/2/23]
    • Renewable energy is also crucial for energy security: According to the International Energy Agency, “clean energy investments have been boosted by a variety of factors in recent years, including periods of strong economic growth and volatile fossil fuel prices that raised concerns about energy security.” In 2022, EIA Executive Director Fatih Birol called energy security concerns “the biggest driver of renewable energies.” [IEA, 5/25/23; CNBC, 10/27/22]
  • FALSE CLAIM: Canceling the leases will significantly harm Alaskans and there’s “nothing” worth protecting in ANWR

    • Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland only cared about climate change, while “some of those poor economies in Alaska were depending on revenue from these leases for their livelihoods, and that’s being canceled.” On Mornings with Maria, Washington Examiner editor Kaylee McGhee White said, “Joe Biden knows how they are going to suffer, he knows what this is going to do to gas prices, he knows all this. The financial pain is the point.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria, 9/7/23]
    • Fox & Friends First co-host Todd Piro argued that safeguarding Alaska’s fishing industry from pollution is “not enough to make up for the fact that so many people are going to be out of jobs because of this, and our gas prices are going to be higher.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 9/7/23]
    • In an interview with Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), Fox Business host Elizabeth MacDonald blamed “the climate change side of the aisle” for ending the leases: “Environmentalists will say, you know, drilling for oil is dirty, it’s polluting. But we've got elected officials out of Alaska saying, no, we do it safely and cleanly.” Burgess then said that Alaskans “are anxious for this resource to be developed” and that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be protected because “you can fly over this area for mile after mile, and there's really nothing there.” [Fox Business, The Evening Edit, 9/7/23]
    • Fox Business host Larry Kudlow argued that “the natives want the jobs” from the canceled leases while his guest, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), claimed that drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge “will not hurt the environment.” Kennedy dismissively compared the area impacted by drilling in ANWR to a postage stamp in a football field, promising, “The polar bears are safe.” [Fox Business, Kudlow, 9/12/23]
    • On his radio show, Fox host Mark Levin said there should be drilling in ANWR because “there’s almost nothing there.” [Westwood One, The Mark Levin Show, 9/7/23]
  • FACT: Indigenous people have spearheaded efforts to protect the refuge from highly destructive oil and gas exploration and development

    • The Gwich’in people, who are native to Alaska and Canada, say the lease cancelation is a victory and want the administration to guarantee continued protection for the refuge: “It's a step in the right direction for this administration to make,” said Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of Alaska's Gwich'in Steering Committee. “We still have a lot of work to do to permanently protect [the refuge], but I'm really enjoying the news.” [CBC, 9/7/23]
    • For the Gwich’in, ANWR is “the sacred place where life begins.” The area is a crucial habitat for the Porcupine caribou, which gather to give birth there every year. The caribou are “at the heart of the wild food web in this part of the world” in addition to being “central to the lives and culture of the Gwich’in people.” [Smithsonian Magazine, 12/21]
    • Oil exploration in ANWR could impact caribou populations and trigger permafrost melt, driving climate change. According to Yale Environment 360, “Caribou are highly sensitive to activity and infrastructure associated with oil and gas exploration and extraction.” Through their grazing and migration patterns, caribou help ensure that permafrost stays intact. If it melts, large amounts of carbon will be released in the form of potent atmosphere-warming methane gas. [Yale Environment 360, 2/18/21]
    • Oil spills in the Arctic are “inevitable” and difficult to clean up, and oil products create massive amounts of air pollution. In 2022 alone, at least 15,000 metric tonnes of oil spilled from tanker vessels globally. This does not include “thousands” of small spills that occur in the U.S. each year, according to NOAA. Cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic is also challenging due to the dynamic nature of sea ice, as well as “sparse resources, weather that is unpredictable at best and long, unforgiving periods of darkness,” according to Inside Climate News. Additionally, burning all of the oil potentially produced as a result of the Willow Project is predicted to create “9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution, equal to adding nearly two million cars to the roads each year.” [International Tanker Owners’ Pollution Federation, accessed 9/15/23; NOAA, accessed 9/14/23; Inside Climate News, 5/8/15; The New York Times, 3/12/23]