On his first day in office, President Biden launched what some see as an attack on fossil fuel through a major shift in energy policy. He cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline, that would carry more Canadian oil to refineries deeper in the U.S., and days later, stopped new oil and gas leases on federal land. As the opening salvo in a refocus on climate change, Scott Thuman reports it comes at a cost to an industry that's created jobs and energy independence.
In the southwest United States, the winds of change are blowing in fast.
This area, called the Permian Basin, so abundant with oil and natural gas, it's a big part of the reason America was able to declare itself energy independent just a few years ago.
But it now faces a stop sign of sorts, after President Biden, on day one, signaled a big shift in energy policy. Blocking completion of the keystone pipeline that would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, then halting new oil and gas leases on federal lands.
Scott: So, how tied are these people to the oil industry?
Steve Pearce: 100% tied to it, I can guarantee it
Pro-oil and often outspoken former Republican Congressman Steve Pearce says his town of Hobbs, New Mexico is in shock.
Steve Pearce: I would guess the economic impact is in the $20 billion dollar range for oil and gas total across the state.
Since a third of the land here is federally owned, a freeze on new leases could mean companies move out.
Steve Pearce: You've got a hundred thousand jobs in the oil and gas industry. You can look at basically half of those leaving each one of those jobs to somewhere between $50,000 and $120,000. Those jobs leave, there's nothing to replace those a hundred-thousand-dollar jobs.
President Biden says it is long past time for America to move forcefully toward renewable energy.
Biden: We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones, and it's time to act.
But change comes at a fragile time for the economy. The fossil fuel industry supports more than 12 million jobs, supplies 80 percent of America's energy, and about 8 percent of our GDP.
White House Deputy National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi insists renewables will provide new jobs.
Ali Zaidi: We're really seeing the market get excited about the opportunity that clean energy represents. We're seeing private capital come in and create jobs all across the supply chain, not just the folks who are installing the turbines, but folks who are manufacturing those turbines, people all across the supply chain. So, for us, this is really about seizing the opportunity that's right in front of us, the jobs opportunity, the tackling the climate crisis represents.
Others aren't convinced. Allen Davis is the county manager in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Revenues from oil and gas in his county and the one next door provide more than one-third of the state budget.
Allen Davis: To me, what that action says is that Southeast New Mexico isn't a friendly place for oil and gas investment. It will drive that investment out of the state to other places.
Scott: You've interpreted the message from Washington, that Washington either doesn't understand or doesn't care enough about what takes place here, or the impact here.
Allen Davis: It's a little bit flippant, but my impression is the folks that are uninformed or ill-informed think, power comes out of the plug in the wall, milk comes out of the jug in the fridge, and petrol comes out of the spigot at the petrol station, and that's just not reality, right? The energy to move industry, to move private citizens, it's enormous in terms of its breadth and infrastructure. And the infrastructure that's being talked about for these other programs doesn't exist yet.
Here in Texas, it's a different situation. These wells sit on state and private land, not federal. So they're not immediately affected by ban on new leases, yet they are still worried.
David Blackmon is a longtime oil analyst and managing editor of Shale Magazine. We met in Midland, the epicenter of the West Texas oil industry
David Blackmon: I think they, they probably are currently underestimating what this administration really plans to do in terms of trying to inhibit the oil and gas business here in the United States.
Because even rigs on state and private land still need permits to produce, and a new administration could slow those down.
Scott: They can grind to a halt.
David Blackmon: They can grind to a halt. Which I believe this administration will probably do. So, if you're a big producer on federal lands that obviously could very substantially impact your business.
Throttling down U.S. production of oil and gas stands to affect the price of everything dependent on trucks and planes that use fossil fuel, from airline tickets to groceries trucked to stores. It could also mean America needs to buy more oil from other nations, often in unstable regions.
David Blackmon: Now, the risk to me as being reliant on countries and parts of the world that, that are relatively unstable, right? The more dependent we become on those parts of the world where those kinds of things happen, then it becomes more of an imperative for our country to get involved militarily in those kinds of conflicts.
Scott: Some people would say you solve the problem by eventually moving a lot of this industry into a green energy source. Solar and wind, why can't people just cross the street so to speak?
Blackmon: Well, I mean, you can. You can, but it takes time. And right now, fossil fuels provide about 80% of the electricity for example in this country, between natural gas and coal and crude oil. You have to have a scalable alternative to that before you just shut it down.
Until then, uncertainty, is driving the day here with wonders of what the next day brings.
For Full Measure, I’m Scott Thuman in Midland, Texas.
Sharyl (on-camera): President Biden has promised to help laid off fossil fuel workers by promoting what he calls clean energy jobs. But those jobs are part of a $2 trillion-dollar plan, that may never clear Congress.