Offshore oil and gas permitting under President Biden has fallen to a low the energy industry has not experienced since the Bush administration two decades ago, according to federal data reviewed by Fox News Digital.

Since January 2021, when Biden took office, the federal government has approved applications for permit to drill on just 157 new wells, according to the data compiled by Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The figure represents a 29% decline compared to the same period under the Trump administration and a 55% decline compared to the same period under the Obama administration.

“Policymakers should leverage the Gulf of Mexico to help meet growing global oil demand,” Erik Milito, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, told Fox News Digital. “The Gulf of Mexico is a prime example of doing more with less.”

“We were producing more than 2 million barrels of oil per day in the Gulf of Mexico prior to the pandemic, despite the number of active lease blocks being much lower than they were 5, 10, or 15 years ago,” he continued. “We produce a massive amount of energy with a small footprint. However, bottlenecking the permitting process is a surefire way to discourage the success of the region despite growing global demand.”


In 2021 and 2022, the BSEE reported the federal government green-lit 52 and 53 offshore drilling permits, respectively, marking the first time since 2003 the figure had fallen below 60. 

Additionally, while the Biden administration issued 105 permits in its first two years, the Trump administration issued 148 permits, the Obama administration issued 275 permits, and the Bush administration, in the first two years of its second term, issued 704 permits.


“Given that a production well in the Gulf of Mexico can cost hundreds of millions of dollars in total to develop, decision-makers must be judicious in deciding to develop a lease,” added Milito, whose organization represents both traditional and renewable offshore energy producers. “Their job is made much more difficult when they cannot depend on a predictable regulatory process.”

“Without a fair and stable leasing and permitting system, energy producers will be incentivized to leave and go to regions with a more predictable regulatory environment,” he said.

In addition to its permitting policies, the Biden administration has been heavily criticized by both industry and lawmakers over its approach to oil and gas leasing. Biden entered office after making a campaign promise to block all new leasing on federal lands and waters and, in May 2022, his administration canceled all three remaining offshore fossil fuel lease sales set for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The administration was ultimately forced to resume leasing after a federal court struck the policy down and the canceled lease sales were reinstated under the Inflation Reduction Act.


However, the Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program late last month that includes just three lease sales through 2029, the fewest number of offshore lease sales ever proposed by the federal government.

“The proposed final program, with three potential oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing short of a slap in the face to the American taxpayer. And for what? This plan will go down as one of the great blunders of the Biden administration,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said in response to the plan.

Overall, both onshore and offshore fossil fuel production on federal lands and waters has yet to return to its pre-pandemic level of 13.1 million barrels a day recorded in March 2020, Energy Information Administration data showed. As of Sept. 29, when the latest data was released, overall production hit 12.9 million barrels a day.

Offshore oil production remains at 1.9 million barrels a day, about 200,000 barrels per day less than the pre-pandemic level under the Trump administration.

“U.S. energy production is at an all-time high, reflecting not only industry security but also the Administration’s work to encourage responsible production in existing areas,” DOI spokesperson Melissa Schwartz told Fox News Digital in a statement. “There are millions of acres of leased, non-producing acres of federal land and waters for oil and gas development.” 

“There are similarly thousands of approved permits that industry is letting sit, un-developed,” she continued. “The Interior Department will continue to support responsible development of our natural resources. Offshore permitting reviews are conducted by the same dedicated career civil servants that have always done them. We will defer to BSEE on any further information.”